x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

EL Seed's journey from walls to Vuitton

The Tunisian artist, known for his urban street art, is the first Arab artist to design for Louis Vuitton's Foulards d'Artistes.

The Tunisian artist eL Seed with a printed silk scarf designed by him for Louis Vuitton. Pawan Singh / The National
The Tunisian artist eL Seed with a printed silk scarf designed by him for Louis Vuitton. Pawan Singh / The National

Louis Vuitton's Foulards d'Artistes is a collaboration between the French label and street artists from around the world. Individually selected creatives design a printed scarf for the brand, which is then produced and sold globally.

The Tunisian urban artist eL Seed was the first Arab artist approached by Louis Vuitton to work on the second instalment of the project, which launched on Monday at Mall of the Emirates.

"They were trying to get the most influential artists from each part of the world and they said they wanted me to represent the Arab world. I didn't say OK straight [away]," says eL Seed, "I thought about it because I just wanted to make sure I wanted to do it for the right reason."

Using a technique that combines Arabic calligraphy and graffiti (a term eL Seed refers to as calligraffiti), his pieces are usually painted straight onto walls or canvases. The challenge with his Louis Vuitton collaboration was working on such a smaller scale than he is used to.

"With Louis Vuitton, the approach was different; the restriction was that it had to be square, so I needed to make something balanced so it could fit in this square," says eL Seed. "I was working big and now the difference was to make this in a smaller scale, taking into consideration that it's something you're going to wear."

The Arabic verses that eL Seed chose as inspiration for the silk scarf is from a poem by Ali Mahmoud Taha titled Venice Carnival.

In it, Venice is described as both a mermaid and an object. "It's beautifying the city and personifying it - that's what I like about it," says eL Seed, who was drawn to the poem as a collaboration between East and West, similar to his scarf. "Most of the time, people think the East and the West are opposite, when they're not. Bringing this history of Venice was a way to break this kind of made-up idea."

The history between Venice and the Arab world also served as inspiration, says eL Seed. "In the 12th century, the Pope forbade any relationship between the Christian world and Arab world and the Venetian people were the only ones who broke this rule and kept dealing with Arab people. They used to sell wood and weapons to them - one of which is called 'al bondouqiyya' [in Arabic], so that's what the Arabs call Venice."

When it comes to his art, the recurring theme, regardless of the medium used, is the message behind each piece, always based on the written word. "Poems, words, quotes, sometimes stuff that I just write myself or hear people say. It's always words, so there's always a meaning behind it, and that's the point of my work."

The artists is currently working on a project in Doha, creating calligraffiti on 700 metres of wall across four tunnels on Salwa Road. He's thrilled to see a boom in the region's art industry. "There's a big desire from the community and the art world to bring culture and art forward - they come up with really revolutionary ideas. People say that the Middle East is trying to prove something to the rest of the world but I don't think so. They want to create their own culture, so we need to make art relevant to people here."

As for his foray into fashion? "It's really cool being the first Arab artist to create a product for Louis Vuitton. We're a farmer family, it's a great achievement and I'm proud of that."

eL Seed's design for Louis Vuitton is available in stores nationwide, with a limited-edition blue scarf only available in Dubai

neldasher@thenational.ae