words & images mary von aue
With spray paint on everything from a minaret to a Star Wars movie set, his unique style of “calligrafitti” is scattered across the globe, disregarding the limits of a wall and making a canvas out of any structure he pleases. Having monogrammed a trunk that sold at auction for almost $60,000, he's clearly not afraid to explore new mediums.
Blending the aesthetics of Arabic calligraphy with the rawness of graffiti art, his unique style has been both banned and celebrated. Growing up in Paris with Tunisian descent, his work challenges both the social norms that ostracized newcomers in France and speaks to a persistent sense of being out of place. From country to country, eL Seed creates dualistic art, blending cultures into one piece that breathes life into an outdated backdrop.
In a quiet nook of the Leila Heller Art Gallery in NYC, I got to ask him what it’s like to be both invited and resisted.
Mary: What does it mean for you to be out of place?
eL Seed: I’m trying to be everywhere. I was born in France and I’m originally from Tunisia, so people try to link me with this region or that region. But, actually, when you're out of place, you’re everywhere at the same time.
Mary: Growing up in France, how accessible was Arabic calligraphy to you?
eL Seed: It wasn’t actually. The link with art came later. When you grow up in France there’s this political system that integrates immigrants totally differently from in the US or UK, so you’ll grow up feeling that you're not French if you try to keep a bit of your culture.
So when people tell you that you’re not French, and then you want to figure out what you are. So you get back to your origin, you get back to your roots, your history, your culture, and that’s how I started learning Arabic. I didn’t speak Arabic thirteen years ago. And then it wasn’t until years after that I became interested in Arabic script.
And at the beginning I used to just write my name, and then step by step I thought that the idea was really brilliant to keep this kind of Western tradition of graffiti, but write more than just a name. So over time I began writing poetry and thinking that you can bring these messages to the people by painting in the street. Instead of just writing your name and doing your really egocentric piece, you just share it with people. So that was the point of that.