In 2016, French/Tunisian artist eL Seed began a massive work of art in Cairo’s Manshiyat Nasr neighborhood, and ne incorporating as many aesthetic perspectives as means of creation. Perception exists as a design covering, and utilizing, more than fifty buildings in the area, and in lateral ways; the art is painted or applied on the upper portions of buildings across a span of several streets, so the entire work may only be seen from a distance.
The artist, in his thirties, is generally identified as working in “calligraffiti,” but this massive piece also represents eco, or environmental, art, in that it is completely within the urban landscapes on which it comments. Moreover, the sheer size and positioning of the art in intended to “live” within the city in a non-intrusive way; this is art that is embedded in the urban environment, rather than set aside as art to be considered apart from it. Essentially, eL Seed brings together painting, Arabic characters, and abstract expression to create a striking statement about the culture surrounding, and supporting, Perception.
The enormity of the art aside, the most dramatic quality of the works derives from contrast. The Cairo neighborhood of its setting is poor, and the buildings used are in disrepair and bland. Seen from above, in fact, the community has the appearance of a war zone. The whites, blues, yellows, and oranges then stand out in stark contrast, and have a vivid, “living” quality not seen elsewhere. This potent element of the work is enhanced by what eL Seed allows to remain; the intensely colored and largely rounded shapes dominate, but do not completely conceal, walls and windows in the decayed buildings. Then, just as color is a critical element, so to is the scope when viewed in its entirety.
There is the impression of a human face in profile, if one highly abstract, which adds the additional element of anthropomorphism; a lifeless environment takes on qualities of human life and gives human meaning to the buildings in which humans lives and work. A further element lies in the spatial aspect of the work. As Perception dominates so large a space, it has a literal trajectory of visual impact.
Beyond these aspects, however, the most important quality of the art lies in its value as ultimately reflecting the varying meanings of the title. Without question, eL Seed’s choice of setting was not random. The neighborhood in question is home to a large Coptic population largely perceived as inferior by the mainstream culture. This being the case, the Coptics have long worked as lower-class garbage collectors for the city, an irony the artist wanted to explore and, ultimately, explode. This population has, in fact, developed impressively efficient recycling systems, and it seems that the artist wished to honor this achievement through highlighting the achievement as defying the bias to the people. If the Coptics are widely disregarded as inferior, and even “dirty,” eL Seed’s intent is to reveal the bright truth of who and what they are, visible when perception is altered.
In conclusion, and while Perception may be categorized in a number of ways, the work defies categorization. It is a cultural and social statement, but it is also only vivid art on an immense scale. It expands the possibilities of graffiti, but it equally translates graffiti into something more legitimate. Lastly, it is reliant on its specific setting for meaning, but the statement it makes about human judgment as so dependent upon perception alone is relevant in any environment. Perception by eL Seed is a remarkable example of art transcending form, and utilizing the most discouraging and inhumane realities to suggest crucial human possibilities.