eL Seed’s Calligraffiti Project in Doha Brings Art to Public

Tunisian-French street artist eL Seed is bringing art to the public of Doha, in his calligraffiti project on Salwa Road — one of the largest graffiti projects in the world.

eL Seed is working with a handful of community artists to decorate 52 walls on Salwa Road, totalling 730 metres of a riff on Arabic calligraphy painted in “Wild Style” graffiti — creating a unique art form called “calligraffiti”.

In April 2013, he discussed the project and public art with Rami El Samahy, architect and CMUQ professor, and architect Tim Makower, at the Doha Architecture Forum talk “Making the City Public.”

“We wanted to create a community project with the city, and bring art to people,” said eL Seed, whose Salwa Road project was commissioned by the Qatar Museums Authority and the Public Works Authority (Ashgal), which has a 5-part video series on YouTube. “Though I was commissioned, this is a community project, it’s their choice of colour and what to write.”

Some calligraphy writings are from Qatar’s national anthem, including such quotes as “Travel the high road; Travel by the guiding light of the Prophets” and “Doves they be at times of peace, Warriors they are at times of sacrifice,” according to Time Out Doha.

eL Seed has launched to international fame over the past year, as he stunningly decorated the Jara Mosque minaret in his hometown of Gabés, Tunisia, sparking conversation over the role of Arabic graffiti, public art and democracy. The project is being profiled in the upcoming film “Tacapes”.

eL Seed with sketches for his Salwa Road project in Doha, Qatar. / Courtesy eL Seed in Doha.

“At QMA, and in public art, we really try to bring the newest form, and we try to relate what we do to the Arab culture and to the company culture,” said Khalid Ali, project manager, QMA, in the first video. “So to have an artist like eL Seed to come here and do 52 panels, it’s huge.”

Despite Doha’s world-class museums, public art is mostly monuments in roundabouts — and even those are vanishing due to street straightening.

But can graffiti done on a highway underpass really be considered “public art”?

“Highway art is normal, like in Paris,” eL Seed said. “Even at 120 kph, you can see the art. For the mural, we created a ‘liquid alphabet,’ which moves with the viewer.”

Graffiti artist eL Seed says 90 percent of his work is improv freestyle while he’s painting, here at Salwa Road in Doha, Qatar. / Image courtesy eL Seed in Doha.

Addressing the tension between commissions and freestyle painting, eL Seed said: “I’m honoured to travel the world for commissions, but you lose the essence of your work if it’s only commissions. To keep subversive, I take a spray can and paint where I want to go. On Salwa Road, when I’m painting it’s like improv, 90 percent is freestyle.”

eL Seed criticised the street artists in the region who do not address the local social context, and the perceptions of audience members who asked about the link between graffiti and the underprivileged.

“A graffiti artist is does not have to be underprivileged,” eL Seed said, calling it a “Westernised mindset.” He added: “We all have the idea that graffiti is by the underprivileged, but for example in France, it’s by the well-off white people who are fighting the system. Would a legal wall (like New York’s 5 Pointz NYC) be a solution here?”

As eL Seed’s Doha project finishes up, does he have any plans to paint the town? “I’ve been spotting a lot of lost walls,” he said, “and I can’t leave with only Salwa Road.” -30-

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