Based in Dubai, French-Tunisian visual artist eL Seed is renowned for his often large-scale works of Arabic calligraphy fashioned to dramatic effect. In response to the social isolation created by the pandemic, earlier this year he created a digital collage through a Zoom video chat that he then shared on Instagram. He talks
exclusively to Canvas about his motivation for the project and how it became much more than just the artwork.
Where have you been based during the pandemic and how has it affected your daytoday life?
ES: When it started getting serious, I was opening my solo show in Miami. I then had to head back home to Dubai and cancel all my other trips. I usually travel at least every three weeks for my art, doing projects, scouting places… Honestly, it felt good to stay at home for a while. I took this time and new rhythm to rethink my life, my priorities and my goals, as well as reconsider my practice and work on different projects that I hope I can launch when this whole craziness is over.
Can you tell us how your Zoom collage project came about?
What I’ve missed most during the pandemic are the human interactions that I experience with my art projects. According to the novelist André Malraux, “Art is the shortest path from one human being to another human being,” which I took as my point of inspiration. I depicted his words in Arabic on an artwork that I then divided into 49 pieces, sending each piece to a different person, in countries all around the globe, for them to use as a virtual background for when we all met online at a particular time. So, at 1pm EST time on 26 April 2020, everyone logged onto Zoom with their respective backgrounds in place. I was the conductor, synchronising the participants and shaping the final picture by allowing them to enter the Zoom call one by one, according to their position in the artwork.
That way we were able to create the whole collage together, right across the world, from Nigeria, Pakistan and Rwanda to Portugal, Egypt, China and beyond. There must have been an amazing atmosphere?
It was not the artwork that was the best part of the project, but the ambience, camaraderie, energy and love that everyone shared during the call. For over an hour we were all in unison, sharing the same human condition. I didn’t realise the power of what was happening until the call was over and the participants left one by one, just as I had added them at the beginning.
Have the pandemic and the collage project affected how you perceive yourself as an artist?
I feel the way that I look at m yself as an artis t has changed from a social perspective. I certainly feel more responsibilities today as an artist. I want to engage mor e and more with communities, and n ot only through art.