eL Seed – Zaraeeb
ArtTalks is delighted to present Zaraeeb, the first solo exhibit in Egypt by internationally acclaimed French-Tunisian artist, eL Seed.
Zaraeeb, comprised of 16 individual artworks and largely made up of zoomed-in fragments of his intricate style, is a continuation of eL Seed’s internationally renowned work, Perception, produced in the Cairo suburb of Manshiyat Nasr earlier this year.
Back in March 2016, a mind-blowing picture went viral on social media. It showed a view of dispersed rooftops in a seemingly underprivileged and crowded city. And right in the middle was a monumental public art installation, uniting more than 50 building façades to create a surreal flying canvas. The picture turned out to be taken in the city of Cairo. The artist behind the black, white, turquoise, and ochre stunning work was eL Seed, a celebrated international artist. In his instantly recognizable, extravagant signature style, the 35-year old artist had created his most ambitious project yet – Perception.
The massive project, which was kept secret during the 3-week execution and was entirely self-funded, had taken place in an unusual and shunned neighborhood called Manshiyat Nasr, commonly known amongst Cairo-locals as the area of ‘el zabaleen’ – literally meaning ‘garbage collectors’ in Arabic. The people of Manshiyat Nasr, often referred to as ‘Zaraeeb’ and who for generations made their living from pig breeding, were forced to adapt their trade to waste management for the City of Cairo. With that shift in trade came the perception that el Zaraeeb were somehow dirty, unclean, and sub-human to the people of Cairo, and with it, discrimination followed and still exists to this day. This, despite the fact, that in the process el Zaraeeb developed the most efficient and highly profitable recycling system on a global level.
As it turned out, eL Seed’s large-scale anamorphic mural quoted Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, a revered Coptic Bishop from the 3rd century, when he said: ‘Anyone who wants to see the sunlight clearly needs to wipe his eye first.’ ‘إن أراد أحد أن يبصر نور الشمس، فإن عليه أن يمسح عينيه’.
Zaraeeb, inspired by Perception, is in homage to the people of Manshiyat Nasr. Through this new body of work, eL Seed has hopes to further break down the barriers and clear the clouded judgements made purely from assumption, fear and misinformation. He hopes that his efforts will open a much-needed dialogue to generate understanding and education for el Zaraeeb, their culture and their way of life.
Each piece of Zaraeeb is named after an individual living in Manshiyat Nasr who greatly touched eL Seed while he was on this emotional journey. Manar, Mario, Abanoub, Uncle Bakheet, Uncle Ibrahim, Aunt Farida and many more Zaraeeb people are now eternalized in each fragment of the exhibition. They opened their homes and their hearts to eL Seed and his team during the making of Perception, exhibiting incredible warmth, trust and hospitality from what is normally a closed and fiercely guarded community.
“They are human, just like everyone else,” says eL Seed of the people who inspired him to paint Zaraeeb. “I’d never received this kind of welcome anywhere in the world”.
What appears to be chaos from afar, when examined close-up is perfectly harmonious.
Created to bring to light the forgotten people of Manshiyat Nasr, eL Seed’s public mural was both strategically and anamorphically painted to be viewed from one vantage point only: The Mokattam Mountain, which is the pride of the community.
While the white of the letters lights up the whole neighbourhood at night, we want to tell eL Seed and his team as they return to Cairo for Zaraeeb: Nawartuna! (You brought light to us).
Born in Paris in 1981, eL Seed’s intricate compositions call not only on the words and their meaning but also on their movement, which ultimately lures the viewer into a different state of mind. Working primarily with subjects that seem contradictory, eL Seed’s art reflects the reality of mankind and the world we live in today. eL Seed installed his work on public spaces, galleries and institutions on every continent. From the streets of Paris or New York, to the Favelas of Rio di Janeiro or the slums of Cape Town, his contemporary approach aims to bring people, cultures and generations together.
Interestingly, ‘eL Seed’ is a pseudo-name that was inspired at the age of 16 by ‘Le Cid’ (meaning ‘The Lord’ in medieval Spain), a five-act tragicomedy written by one of the great seventeenth-century French dramatists Pierre Corneille in 1636.