The Dubai-based artist EL-Seed, who draws upon Arabic calligraphy's looping and curved shapes to create mesmerizing and often massive installations of wood, metal, glass, and more, believes words are more powerful - and that's why he incorporates them into his work.

One of his most recent works, for example, took the form of a giant colorful installation of painted fabric across the rooftops of the Nepali village of Giranchaur, which was leveled by an earthquake back in 2015 and rebuilt mostly by local women.

''There is nothing between us, nothing at all,'' read the Arabic script on the piece, which quoted Nepali poet and activist Yogmaya Neupane. ''Your eyes have tears, just like my own.''

Seven years after opening his Dubai studio, eL Seed, whose projects have appeared everywhere from the favelas of Rio de Janeiro to the Korean demilitarized zone, is at the forefront of that city's vibrant and arts growing community.

''What I like about this place is the diversity, and seeing people from different communities, ethnicities, and religions being able to practice and live on their own terms, but in respect of everybody else,'' he says.

His public works can be spotted throughout the city; what he considers his most iconic piece in Dubai, DECLARATION, is a bright pink sculpture outside the Dubai Opera ripe for public engagement.

''I invite people to climb on the structure, to walk through it, under it,'' says the artist.

Born 40 years ago in France to Tunisian parents, eL Seed - a pseudonym referencing the 17th century French tragicomedy Le Cid, itself based on an Arabic word, sayyid, meaning master - painted his first wall in a Parisian suburb as a teenager in 1998.

''A woman saw me from a balcony and was screaming like crazy saying 'I'm gonna call your mum right now!' I was looking at her like, ''What's wrong?" he says.

''The wall is gray. I bought the paint, I painted an art piece on the wall, I was making the neighborhood more beautiful.''

His professional art career didn't begin until a decade later when, while working as business consultant in Montreal, he painted his first piece of Arabic calligraphy as public art.

''I felt something was missing from my life. I was dying inside, and I just wanted to paint,'' he says. ''I had this impression that something had been in me for years and it was just waiting for me to express,'' he says. Two years later - on the day his daughter, now 11, was born - eL Seed quit his day job to dedicate himself to art full time.

Beginning in 2013, eL Saeed took up a one-year residency at Dubai's Tashkeel contemporary art and design center at the invitation of the founder and director Sheikha Lateefa bint Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, a member of Dubai's ruling family.

It was apparent he would ''make work with an impact,'' says Sheikha Lateefa.

Key to eL Seed's approach, says Sheikha Lateefa, is his thoughtfulness regarding the communities in which he's working. ''He's the inventor of the idea, but then uses communities to actually think through what he is making and how it is produced.''

Indeed, eL Seed says he understands, when making large-scale public art projects, it's essential to get into the mindset that you're working for those who live there, rather than creating whatever you'd like.

''You give this feeling of ownership to people, and that's what I Love,'' he says.

The World Students Society thanks author Nicola Chilton.


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