French-Tunisian artist El Seed says his graffiti artwork has added new perspective to Cairo's impoverished Manshyet Nasser known as "Garbage City", challenging judgment and misconceptions
Between brick buildings and heaping piles of trash in the Cairo neighbourhood of Manshyet Nasser, French-Tunisian artist El Seed has created a graffiti artwork to challenge the judgment and misconceptions society has about the area's residents.
The artwork in Arabic calligraphy covers more than 50 buildings in the impoverished area commonly known as "garbage city".
Manshyet Nasser is known as having a large population of Coptic Christians and as a place where workers collect the Egyptian capital's rubbish and sort it for recycling.
The writing in the graffiti translates as "anyone who wants to see the sunlight clearly needs to wipe his eyes first" -- a quote from Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, a Coptic Bishop from the third century.
El Seed said he created this artwork in order to challenge people's perceptions of the area.
"This place is a symbol of changing perspective and awareness, because when I arrived there, my original perspective was changed and I wanted to transmit this message to people - not just with this location in particular, but with the entire world. When you have a perspective and you don't know and you don't have any information - you've heard something, but haven't talked to people there, or you were told but didn't see for yourself, you might have the wrong perspective. And you must change your perspective, through meeting one person or the group, to know the reality of the matter," he said.
The graffiti, called "Perception", took three weeks to complete with the help of a large group of artists from Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt and France.
It is best viewed from a particular spot on the Mokattam Hills, where all the different segments can be seen together to reveal the complete piece.
El Seed said that local residents welcomed him and and supported the project.
"In the beginning, they didn't have an idea. I showed them a sketch of what we were going to draw on the houses - a part on this house and another on the other house, so that together, they would become one painting that you can see from one spot; the Mokattam Hills. In the beginning, they didn't understand, but they welcomed us. After we were done, I took them up to the monastery on the hill and they saw the painting and they were surprised. They said they had no idea it would look like that. They were happy, very happy," he said.
One Manshyet Nasser resident said the artwork would be appreciated by those travelling to visit the Monastery of St. Simon, or Cave Church, built into the rockface of the Mokattam Hills.
"They said it (the art) is because of the monastery above. Those who come from abroad to visit it, tourists come up here to visit the monastery. They can see down here, so they thought, instead of seeing the buildings in this state, they made this scene for them," he said.
For El Seed, though, the focus is not on the visitors, but on the residents themselves and the wider community's perception of them.
"The most important thing is that we connect with the people of this place. They are strong people and are proud of themselves, and I wanted to transmit the message that the people outside of Manshyet Nasser refer to them as the "Zabaleen" (garbage people), but they are not the "Zabaleen". They actually say that the people outside of their area are the Zabaleen because the garbage is coming from them, from Cairo. They are important people and they are a blessing, because without them, Cairo would be covered in garbage," he said.
Born to Tunisian parents, El Seed spent most of his life in the suburbs of Paris, juggling different cultures, languages and identities. He channelled these experiences into an artistic expression that blends Arabic calligraphy with graffiti, creating a modern art style, Calligraffiti.
El Seed has created Calligraffiti works in several parts of the world; among the most prominent is the Pont des Arts bridge in Paris.
He also carried out many other calligraphy projects in Tunisia, the most famous of which is a painted Quranic verse on the minaret of a mosque in his hometown city of Gabeis.
Graffiti art flourished in Egypt during the popular uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Graffiti became an alternative media channel, documenting different political events that took place and paying homage to activists who died during the revolution.
But authorities have since suppressed artists and erased much of the street art as part of a crackdown on opposition.