How does one make beauty from dirt? How do you bring a message of peace and hope in the form of light and colour to a place known for dirt and refuse? This was the task ahead of El Seed, acclaimed street artist, and his most ambitious yet life-affirming project to date: covering fifty buildings with Arabic calligraphy in vibrant, sunset shades on the Manshiyat Nasr neighbourhood in Cairo, Egypt. And so it was that we were introduced to the eL Seed TED Talk.
Manshiyat Nasr is home to a largely Coptic community who recycle most of Cairo’s garbage. They do this in a fantastically efficient system. Because of this, they are known as the Zabaleen (people of the rubbish). However, as eL Seed explains in this talk, it is perhaps the people of the big city who should be known as the Zabaleen, as they produce the rubbish.
In a deeply moving piece, he explains how, with the blessing of the town elder, he gets to know more about this private but peaceful people. eL Seed discovers street children who will not take food from him lest he has less than they do. He discovers love, encouragement, and a reason behind what he does; as he learns more than he teaches the people of Manshiyat Nasr.
According to the soft-spoken but passionate French-Tunisian:
In Egypt, people always greet you with the expression ‘Nawartouna’ which means ‘you brought light to us’. In Manshiyat Nasr, they were always telling us this. The white of the letters was a fluorescent/glow in the dark paint. When the art piece was finished, we rented some black light projectors and lit up the whole neighbourhood at night, surprising everyone around. We wanted to show them they were the ones who brought the light to us.
It is as a result of his experiences in this spellbinding place that he said “Anyone who wishes to see the sunlight clearly needs to wipe his eyes first”
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