BRITISH SCHOOLS LOOK TO EL SEED FOR IN­SPI­RA­TION ON ARA­BIC CAL­LIG­RA­PHY

▶ The artist replied to the pri­mary teacher say­ing he was ‘hon­oured to see my works used in that way,’ writes

The National - News - - ARTS & LIFESTYLE - Melissa Gron­lund

Pri­mary school pupils in the north of Eng­land have been script­ing and ex­plor­ing Ara­bic cal­lig­ra­phy, in­spired by Dubai artist eL Seed.

Adam Whit­worth, the as­sis­tant head­teacher at West­cott Pri­mary School in Hull, used eL Seed’s work to teach pupils about build­ing bridges among cul­tures.

“We are teach­ing the kids about tol­er­ance and un­der­stand­ing, and how to be cit­i­zens of the world,” he ex­plains. “We’re a pretty white, ho­mo­ge­neous British school, and I wanted to com­bat neg­a­tive stereo­types in the me­dia.”

The Tu­nisian-French artist whose stu­dio is in Dubai, quotes lines of po­etry and ren­ders them as sharpedged, flow­ing Ara­bic graf­fiti. His mu­rals are fa­mil­iar to those liv­ing in the UAE – they grace the Abu Dhabi Mu­nic­i­pal­ity build­ing, the Bank of Shar­jah build­ing and Dubai Opera, among many other sites – as well as be­ing in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned. Cen­tral to his work is the pro­mo­tion of un­der­stand­ing be­tween cul­tures: in 2017, he painted a graf­fiti on the de­mil­i­tarised zone be­tween South Ko­rea and North Ko­rea, and his most fa­mous work is a stag­gered graf­fiti in the rub­bish col­lec­tors’ neigh­bour­hood in Cairo.

The West­cott pupils took lines from the British poem, The High­way­man, and trans­lated them with the help of Ara­bic-speak­ing pupils (and the in­ter­net). They then came up with the eL Seed-style graf­fiti for the script. One stu­dent, Eloise, made her line of po­etry into a pinky rose; Poppy used the colours of the rain­bow to fill in the let­ter­ing.

Part­way through the project, Whit­worth posted some ex­am­ples on his Twit­ter feed, and tagged eL Seed. He was amazed when the artist replied, con­grat­u­lat­ing the pupils. “It was in­cred­i­ble for the stu­dents to have the artist him­self re­spond,” he says. “He’s like a su­per­star to them. We couldn’t be­lieve it.”

Speak­ing to The Na­tional, eL Seed said he was sur­prised to see his work pop up in the north of Eng­land. “It’s al­ways great to see kids re­spond­ing the way these kids did – es­pe­cially these chil­dren who are not in the Arab world, but in the United King­dom,” he says, adding that he looked up Hull on a map to see whether he could visit the school on an up­com­ing trip to Lon­don. “It’s im­por­tant to know that you have peo­ple who are try­ing to teach kids about other cul­tures. I’m al­ways happy and hon­oured to see my works used in that way.”

This is Hull’s sec­ond re­cent brush with street art. A year ago, a work by Banksy ap­peared on a dis­used rail bridge, and quickly be­came a pop­u­lar lo­cal at­trac­tion. Then, over the sum­mer, the mu­ral was de­faced, and the pub­lic quickly moved to try and safe­guard it.

“Like a lot of teach­ers, I of­ten use graf­fiti as a way to en­gage the stu­dents in de­bate,” says Whit­worth. “They re­ally get mo­ti­vated be­cause it’s some­thing a bit no­to­ri­ous and cap­tures their at­ten­tion. With the Banksy, the ques­tion was: can you van­dalise van­dal­ism?”

It was while he was re­search­ing the his­tory of street art that he came across eL Seed’s Ted talk, Street Art for Hope and Peace. In it, the Dubai artist re­counts that he was once com­mis­sioned to do a mu­ral in Paris, but had to erase his work be­cause the man who owned the wall re­alised the graf­fiti was in Ara­bic. El Seed re­luc­tantly com­plied.

A week later, the event or­gan­iser came back to the artist and told him that he could do a mu­ral on the wall right op­po­site the man’s house. As the artist says in the talk, at first he was go­ing to write: “In your face,” but in the end, he opted for: “Open your heart”.

“That’s re­ally the mes­sage we are go­ing for,” says Whit­worth. “It’s a con­tentious time in our po­lit­i­cal his­tory with Brexit, and it’s im­por­tant now to pro­mote that call for peace and tol­er­ance.” The teacher adds that Hull has a rich lit­er­ary her­itage, with the great British poet Philip Larkin hav­ing writ­ten his best work while em­ployed as the li­brar­ian at the univer­sity there.

“We would love to take a line of Larkin’s po­etry and make it into a graf­fiti. I want eL Seed to know that he has an open in­vi­ta­tion of any brick wall he wants up in Hull.”

El Seed

Above and below, El Seed-in­spired art­works by stu­dents of West­cott Pri­mary School in Hull

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