Mural Painting in Cairo’s Slum - A Project of Peace

„Artist creates amazing mural painting across 50 buildings in Manshiyat Naser,Cairo“

August 22nd, 2016
Andreea Stretea, CD News

‘’Anyone who wants to see the sunlight clearly needs to wipe his eye first’’

Up close, it appears the graffiti has been sprayed on walls at random – but there is a hidden message in the sprawling artwork. It’s only when you stand back from the art that you really see the beauty of the colorful graffiti sprayed on the side of the homes in the gritty Cairo ‘slum’.

Visionary artist eL Seed and his team spent three weeks working on the Perception Project in the Manhiyat Naser neighborhood known as ‘Garbage City’, located in downtown Cairo. You can see the whole mural, painted across 50 different buildings, when you stand back and view it from a hillside looking down on the dilapidated houses.

Born in Paris to Tunisian parents, eL Seed travels the world making art in Paris, New York, Jeddah, Melbourne, Gebes, and Doha. His goal is to create dialogue and promote tolerance as well as change global perception of what Arabic means. In 2012, for instance, he painted a message of unity on a 47-meter high minaret on the Jara mosque in Gabes, Tunisia. ‘’In my new project Perception I am questioning the level of judgment and misconception society can unconsciously have upon a community based on their differences,’’ eL Seed said about the mural painted on 50 different buildings in Manshiyat Nasr, a Cairo slum.

In the neighborhood of Manshiyat Nasr in Cairo, the Coptic community of Zaraeeb collects the trash of the city for decades and developed the most efficient and highly profitable recycling system on a global level.

till, the place is perceived as dirty, marginalized and segregated. ‘’To bring light to this community, with my team and the help of the local community, I created an anamorphic piece that covers almost 50 buildings only visible from a certain point of the Moqattam Mountain. The piece of art uses the words of Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, a Coptic Bishop from the 3rd century that states, “Anyone who wants to see the sunlight clearly needs to wipe his eye first “ eL Seed said.

One day during his visit, eL Seed climbed the mountain that overlooked the neighborhood and began to plot his painting. Manshiyat Naser is built from asymmetrical brick buildings that line up like crooked teeth. To make a truly impacting mural, the painting would have to span these buildings, blending from one to the next. eL Seed has made plenty of large-scale works, but he’d never done an anamorphic painting before. Typically the artist paints freehand, eyeballing the calligraphy as he goes. ‘’This was a totally new process’’, he says. ‘’Usually I never sketch, but on this one I had to sketch.’’ eL Seed took a photo from the mountainside perspective and overlaid a transparency of his circular calligraphy sketch over it in Photoshop. This would be his blueprint.

The artist explained how he was humbled by the reception he received from the neighborhood and plans to release a book and documentary about his time there. ‘’The Zareeb community welcomed my team and I as we were family. It was one of the most amazing human experiences I have ever had. They are generous, honest and strong people. They have been given the name of Zabaleen (the garbage people), but this is not how they call themselves. They don’t live in the garbage but from the garbage; and not their garbage, but the garbage of the whole city. They are the ones who clean the city of Cairo,’’ he said.

‘’In Egypt they have an expression –‘you brought light to us’. In Manshiyat Nasr they were always telling us this. Actually in the painting I used a glow in the dark white paint for the calligraphy. So at the end of the project we rented some black light projectors and lit up the whole neighborhood. We wanted to surprise them and let them know that they were the ones who brought light to us.’’ eL Seed added.

Even for those who can’t read Arabic, eL Seed believes calligraphy itself – its form, its motion – is powerful enough to evoke emotion. Like a song whose words you can’t translate, Perspective has much to do with feeling as it does understanding, From streets and rooftops alike, the constituent loops and curves of Perspective resembles the piece of a puzzle that don’t quite fit together, its seeming imperfections a means to a more poetic end.


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