Being fleet-footed and discrete is often life's lot for a street artist, particularly those used to working covertly on the streets of major cities. But French-Tunisian artist eL Seed has had to turn all that preliminary training on its head with a huge public work that has just been unveiled in time for Eid Al-Fitr.
The Jara Mosque sits in the centre of Gabés, Tunisia, and eL Seed has spent Ramadan suspended 57 metres in the air spraypainting a tangle of calligraphic words from the Qu'ran onto the side of its minaret.
The project has been funded by Sharjah-based Barjeel Art Foundation, which was founded by Sultan Saood Al Qassemi, an art collector and regular pundit on Arab affairs. With Tunisia still working out the terms of its own future, after sloughing off 23 years of dictatorial rule by Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in popular uprisings last year, the project is "Not about decorating a mosque, it is about making art a visible actor in the process of cultural and political change,” says eL Seed.
The artist melds Arabic calligraphy with graffiti aesthetics in his work, and often uses this to breathe fresh life into forgotten or run-down parts of cities. He's worked extensively in North Africa and his work in the medinas really shows off how murals can reinvigorate somewhere in need of a little love.
In Gabés, eL Seed has used a verse from the Qu'ran that emphasises tolerance and mutual coexistence with those of differing perspectives: 'Oh humankind, we have created you from a male and a female and made people and tribes so you may know each other.'
Tunisia's transition to democracy has been fraught with tensions over how free should free speech be in the country's new constitution. In June, protestors took to the streets of Tunis over an art exhibition deemed offensive to Islam and the ensuing violence left 65 policemen injured. This mural on the Jara Mosque is an attempt to show that art and religion can converge and will remain on the building's walls permanently.
For info on the piece, see www.elseed-art.com