French-born Tunisian artist eL Seed is currently suspended 57 meters in the air in an effort to paint Tunisia’s largest graffiti mural on the country’s tallest minaret, located at the Jara Mosque in the south-eastern industrial city of Gabès.
Reacting to the recent clashes between religious sects and the art community in Tunisia, the artist embarked on a project to transform this religious landmark into a public artwork during the holy month of Ramadan. Specialising in ‘Calligraffiti’—an art form that combines graffiti with Arabic calligraphy—eL Seed’s large-scale production sites traditional principles of Arabic script with the modern sensibilities of graffiti counter-culture.
Recent tensions in Tunisia have sparked a critical debate about the limits of artistic freedoms in the birthplace of the Arab Spring as it undergoes a nascent transition to democracy. “This project is not about decorating a mosque, it is about making art a visible actor in the process of cultural and political change,” comments el Seed, who started work on the mural on July 20. “I truly believe that art can bring about fruitful debate, especially within the uncertain political climate right now in Tunisia.”
Initiated by Al Khaldounia, the project was approved by the Governor of Gabès and the mosque’s Imam, Slah Thebet. The 57-meter-high mural will permanently cover the entire concrete tower face of Jara Mosque in hopes of highlighting the convergence of art and religion and raising the public’s awareness by infusing art directly into the urban landscape. Exhibiting the words, “Oh humankind, we have created you from a male and a female and made people and tribes so you may know each other,” eL Seed quotes a verse of from the Holy Qur’an, which addresses the importance of mutual respect and tolerance through knowledge as an obligation.
“I hope that this artistic wall on the minaret will help to revive the city, and especially tourism in Gabes,” comments Thebet.
United Arab Emirates-based Barjeel Art Foundation is funding el Seed’s project. Founded by art collector and avid Arab affairs commentator Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi, Barjeel Art Foundation hosts a publicly accessible Arab art collection in Sharjah and participates in art projects internationally. Among the foundation’s guiding principles is to contribute to the intellectual development of the region’s art scene.
eL Seed, a globally recognised Calligraffiti artist, often creates works in public environments, drawing on references to cultural and urban identity to revive neglected spaces through artistic defacement. Documented by film crews from France and Canada, and created in collaboration with both local and cross-national participants, el Seed’s Jara Mosque project is set for completion by August 18, in time for the Eid al-Fitr celebrations that mark the end of Ramadan.
For more information about the project, or to schedule an interview with eL Seed, contact Megan Beneat-Donald at firstname.lastname@example.org or at +216 93 89 72 53