eL Seed fuses Arabic calligraphy with graffiti to paint colorful, swirling messages of hope and peace on buildings from Tunisia to Paris. The artist and TED Fellow shares the story of his most ambitious project yet: a mural painted across 50 buildings in Manshiyat Naser, a district of Cairo, Egypt, that can only be fully seen from a nearby mountain.

eL Seedは、アラビア語のカリグラフィとグラフィティを融合させ、チュニジアからパリまでの建物に希望と平和のカラフルで渦巻くメッセージを描いています。

このアーティストであり、TEDフェローであるeL Seedは、自身の最も野心的なプロジェクトの物語を共有します。それは、エジプトのカイロ、マンシヤット・ナーセル地区にある50棟の建物に描かれた壁画であり、近くの山からしか完全に見ることができません。

A project of peace, painted across 50 buildings
50 の建物全体に描かれた平和のプロジェクト
スピーカー エルシード
アップロード 2016/08/26

「50 の建物全体に描かれた平和のプロジェクト(A project of peace, painted across 50 buildings)」の文字起こし

When I decided to create an art piece in Manshiyat Naser, the neighborhood of the Cairo garbage collectors in Egypt, I never thought this project would be the most amazing human experience that I would ever live.

As an artist, I had this humanist intention of beautifying a poor and neglected neighborhood by bringing art to it and hopefully shining light on this isolated community.

The first time I heard about this Christian Coptic community was in 2009 when the Egyptian authorities under the regime of Hosni Mubarak decided to slaughter 300,000 pigs using the pretext of H1N1 virus. Originally, they are pig breeders. Their pigs and other animals are fed with the organic waste that they collect on a daily basis. This event killed their livelihood.

The first time I entered Manshiyat Naser, it felt like a maze. I was looking for the St. Simon Monastery on the top of the Muqattam Mountain. So you go right, then straight, then right again, then left to reach all the way to the top. But to reach there, you must dodge between the trucks overpacked with garbage and slalom between the tuk-tuks, the fastest vehicle to move around in the neighborhood. The smell of the garbage unloaded from those trucks was intense, and the noise of the traffic was loud and overbearing. Add to it the din created by the crushers in those warehouses along the way.

From outside it looks chaotic, but everything is perfectly organized. The Zaraeeb, that’s how they call themselves, which means the pig breeders, have been collecting the garbage of Cairo and sorting it in their own neighborhood for decades. They have developed one of the most efficient and highly profitable systems on a global level. Still, the place is perceived as dirty, marginalized and segregated because of their association with the trash.

So my initial idea was to create an anamorphic piece, a piece that you can only see from one vantage point. I wanted to challenge myself artistically by painting over several buildings and having it only fully visible from one point on the Muqattam Mountain. The Muqattam Mountain is the pride of the community. This is where they built the St. Simon Monastery, a 10,000-seat cave church that they carved into the mountain itself.

So, the first time I stood on top of the mountain and I looked at the neighborhood, I asked myself, how on earth will I convince all those owners to let me paint on their buildings? And then Magd came.

Magd is a guide from the Church. He told me the only person I needed to convince was Father Samaan, who is the leader of the community. But to convince Father Samaan, I needed to convince Mario, who is a Polish artist who moved to Cairo 20 years ago and who created all the artwork of the Cave Church.

I am really grateful to Mario. He was the key of the project. He managed to get me a meeting with Father Samaan, and surprisingly, he loved the idea. He asked me about where I painted before and how I will make it happen. And he was mainly concerned by what I was going to write.

In every work that I create, I write messages with my style of Arabic calligraphy. I make sure those messages are relevant to the place where I am painting but have this universal dimension, so anybody around the world can relate to it. So for Manshiyat Naser, I decided to write in Arabic the words of St. Athanasius of Alexandria, a Coptic bishop from the third century, who said:,

which means in English, “Anyone who wants to see the sunlight clearly needs to wipe his eyes first.” It was really important for me that the community felt connected to the words. And for me this quote was perfectly reflecting the spirit of the project.

So Father Samaan blessed the project, and his approval brought all the residents on board. Hundreds of liters of paint, a dozen blue manual lifts, several trips back and forth to Cairo, a strong and solid team from France, North Africa, Middle East and the US, and after a year of planning and logistics, there we are, my team and some members from the local community creating a piece that will spread over 50 buildings, some filling up the space of the calligraphy that I trace with colors. Here some blue, there some yellow, there some orange.

Some others carrying some sand bags and putting them on the top of the buildings to hold those manual lifts, and some others assembling and disassembling those same lifts and moving them around the different buildings. At the beginning of the project, I numbered all those buildings on my sketch, and there was no real interaction with the community. People didn’t get the point of all this. But fast enough, those building numbers became family names.

The first building was the house of Uncle Ibrahim. Uncle Ibrahim is such an enthusiastic person. He was always singing and making jokes, and his daughters and sons saved me from his bull who wanted to attack me on the fourth floor.

Actually, the bull saw me from the window and came out on the balcony. Yeah. Uncle Ibrahim was always hanging out on the balcony and talking to me while I was painting. I remember him saying that he didn’t go to the mountain for 10 years, and that he never takes a day off. He said that if he stopped working, who will stop the garbage? But surprisingly, at the end of the project, he came all the way to the mountain to look at the piece. He was really proud to see his house painted, and he said that this project was a project of peace and — sorry — Thank you. He said that it was a project of peace and unity and that it brought people together.

So his perception towards the project changed, and my perception towards the community changed also, and towards what they do. All the garbage that everybody is disgusted by is not theirs. They just work out of it. Actually, they don’t live in the garbage. They live from the garbage. So I started doubting myself and wondering what was the real purpose of this whole project? It was not about beautifying a place by bringing art to it. It was about switching perception and opening a dialogue on the connection that we have with communities that we don’t know.

So day after day, the calligraphy circle was taking shape, and we were always excited to go back on the mountain to look at the piece. And standing exactly at this point every day made my realize the symbolism behind this anamorphic piece. If you want to see the real image of somebody, maybe you should change your angle. There were doubts and difficulties, like fears and stress. It wasn’t simple to work in such environments, sometimes having pigs under you while you paint or climbing a stack of garbage to reach a lift.

But we all got over the fear of the heights, the swinging lifts, the strength of the smell and also the stress of not finishing on time. But the kindness of all those people made us forget everything. The building number 3 was the house of Uncle Bakheet and Aunty Fareeda. In Egyptian, they have this expression that says, “Ahsen Nas,” which means “the best people.” They were the best people. We used to take our break in front of their houses, and all the kids of the neighborhood used to join us.

I was impressed and amazed by the kids of Manshiyat Naser. For the first few days, they were always refusing anything we were offering them, even a snack or a drink. So I asked Aunty Fareeda, “Why is that?” And she told me they teach their kids to refuse anything from somebody that they don’t know because maybe this person needs it more than they do. So at this exact point I realized actually the Zaraeeb community was the ideal context to raise the topic of perception. We need to question our level of misconception and judgment we can have as a society upon communities based on their differences.

I remember how we got delayed on Uncle Ibrahim’s house when his pigs that are bred on the rooftop were eating the sand bags that hold the lifts.

The house of Uncle Bakheet and Aunty Fareeda was this kind of meeting point. Everybody used to gather there. I think this is what Uncle Ibrahim meant when he said that was a project of peace and unity, because I really felt that people were coming together. Everyone was greeting us with a smile, offering us a drink or inviting us into their own house for lunch. Sometimes, you are at the first level of a building, and somebody opens his window and offers you some tea. And then the same thing happens on the second floor. And you keep going all the way to the top.

I think I never drank as much tea as I did in Egypt. And to be honest with you, we could have finished earlier, but I think it took us three weeks because of all those tea breaks.

In Egypt, they have another expression, which is “Nawartouna,” which means, “You brought light to us.” In Manshiyat Naser they were always telling us this. The calligraphy, actually — I used a white glow-in-the-dark paint for the calligraphy so at the end of the project, we rented some black light projectors and lit up the whole neighborhood, surprising everybody around. We wanted to tell them that they are the ones who brought light to us.

The Zaraeeb community are strong, honest, hard workers, and they know their value. The people of Cairo call them “the Zabaleen,” which means “the people of the garbage,” but ironically, the people of Manshiyat Naser call the people of Cairo the Zabaleen. They say, they are the ones who produce the garbage, not them.

The goal was to leave something to this community, but I feel that they are the ones who left something in our lives. You know, the art project was just a pretext for this amazing human experience. The art piece at some point will disappear, vanish, and actually there is somebody who is building a second floor in front of Uncle Ibrahim’s house, so it’s covering part of the painting, so I might need to go back and paint over it.

It was about the experience, about the story, about the moment. From the streets of the neighborhood, the painting appears in fragments, isolated from one another, standing alone. But connected with the sign of calligraphy that today reveals the powerful message that we should all think about before we want to judge somebody. “Anyone who wants to see the sunlight clearly needs to wipe his eyes first.” Thank you.

「50 の建物全体に描かれた平和のプロジェクト(A project of peace, painted across 50 buildings)」の和訳



















しかし、私たちはみんな高所恐怖症、揺れるリフト、強烈な臭いの力、そして時間通りに仕上げられないストレスを乗り越えました。しかし、すべての人々の親切心が私たちをすべて忘れさせました。3番の建物はバクヒートおじさんとファリーダおばさんの家でした。エジプトでは、「Ahsen Nas」という表現があります。これは「最高の人々」という意味です。彼らは最高の人々でした。私たちは彼らの家の前で休憩をとり、近所の子どもたちが一緒になって参加してくれました。