By: Ehsaan Mesghali
Arabic calligraphy and street art quite clearly come from two entirely different worlds, and this is partly the reason for eL Seed’s success. With your feet in two worlds at once, you have more opportunities to turn heads. Street art enthusiasts cherish his Arabic style, while the Arab world cherishes his street art style. The most fascinating part is: his work has a clear underlying discussion on identity. El Seed gladly took time out of his day to sit down and answer a few questions about his life and work. We hope you are as excited about this opportunity as we are.
Elan: Would you mind sharing with our readers your personal background, where you and your family are from, where you grew up, and more importantly how this perhaps influenced you current career path as an artist and the content of your art as well.
eL Seed: I grew up in the Parisian suburbs during the late 80s and 90s. During this time, Graffiti and hip-hop culture took off in France and since then I have always been influenced by its’ various expressions. My parents are from southern Tunisia, from a town called Teboulbou and through this I’ve always had a strong connection to the Arabic language and to North African culture. I also always had been keen on learning calligraphy. All these divergent interests came together when I started exploring my identity as a young French guy with North African roots. This theme is quite present throughout my artwork and is always an undercurrent in most projects I undertake.
Elan: Could you explain to us how you first got into street art and what drove you to express yourself in this particular way? Did you experiment in any other art forms in the past or currently?
ES: I grew up with graffiti and hip-hop so it was something that greatly influenced my life. When I was younger, I was into drawing storyboards and creating fictional cartoon characters and I also used to customize clothing, shoes, and baseball caps. In the French school system and in society at large, you are taught that artistic careers are reserved for the rich. They are perceived as a waste of time or a poor source of income. I ended up leaving much of my artistic passion behind and got a couple of degrees in business and marketing. The reason I came back to street art in a very real way was thanks to French graffiti artist Hest1. He was living in North America at the same time I was and we began painting together. He showed me how it was possible to join both my love for calligraphy and my passion for graffiti and blend it into one style. Since then, I’ve been taking steady steps towards turning my passion into a career.
Elan: What are some of the more daunting challenges you face as an artist? How have you overcome them or perhaps still struggle with them on a daily basis?
ES: Being involved in a full-time artistic career can be frightening if you lose yourself. I struggle on a daily basis to remember why it was I started doing this and for what reasons. It can be easy to take compliments and success on a personal level, and likewise for slander and failure. I have also found that the Internet moves things along so fast that you have to constantly ground yourself. What grounds me is knowing where I am from, taking regular trips back to Tunisia, and keeping my family close. I thank God every day for everything that has come to me in the form of contracts, projects, and interviews. I remind myself that all this doesn’t come for me – this makes it easier for me to stay away from the conceitedness and pride of the art world.
Elan: How do you juggle your personal artistic agenda with paid commissions and work that often has specific criteria and requirements?
ES: This is something I’m still learning to juggle. So far, timing has been in my favor. There have been a few periods in the past couple of years in which commissions began to clash with an exhibition or a collection I needed to finish. I like to think I’m getting better at balancing my personal art projects with commissions that come along the way.
Elan: What is exciting you the most in the art world at the moment? Which artists do you follow consistently and admire their work?
ES: At the moment I am very excited about what is happening with graffiti in the Arab world. Lots of artists are testing different styles and experimenting with Arabic script. I especially love to see young niqabees in Saudi Arabia smashing through stereotypes, creating some amazing murals and showing great talent as graffiti artists.
I follow quite a few calligraphers, most notably Tunisian calligrapher Karim Jabbari. Sundus Abdul-Hadi is an Iraqi Montreal-based artist whose work inspires and pushes people to reflect on difficult issues. In the graffiti world, French artist Zepha and Spanish artist Aryz are among my favorites.
Elan: Where do you normally find inspiration from to push your work forward? Other artistic fields? Other artist within the same field?
ES: I find inspiration from many different avenues. When I read or listen to a lecture, ideas can start to flow, or an interesting conversation will make me mull over some topic. I enjoy mixing my work with different mediums and recently I have been experimenting more and more with wood, sculpture, and stained glass. I have also been inspired by different artistic styles such as pointillism. Generally, I come across another style or art form thanks to the people around me, other times I stumble by chance across an interesting article or exhibition.
Elan: What can our readers look for from the world of El Seed in the near future? Any projects, shows or walls coming up that you’d like to share with our audience?
ES: There are a few projects coming down the pipeline but they are not all finalized. At the moment I am preparing a new exhibition entitled ‘Sajjal ana 3rabi’ that focuses on the recent revolution in Tunisia and the so-called ‘Arab Spring’. The exhibition is going to be a mix of canvas work and installation work so it should be something different from the usual. Everything is kept up-to-date on my website on the news page at: www.elseed-art.com.
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