Last week, tons of romantic “love locks” were removed from the Pont des Arts Bridge in Paris due to security concerns and replaced with eye-catching street art, including a vibrant mural by Tunisian artist eL Seed. It’s an interim exhibition while the bridge awaits new siding - not likely to be dismantled until after summer. Paris will always be the “City of Love,” even stripped of its famous love locks. Now it’s also emerging as the “City of Arabic Calligraffiti.”
A recent fad had lovers tagging padlocks with their names, then clipping the locks to the bridge’s mesh grating and tossing the keys into the Seine. (Tourists on open-top boat tours were hit by flying keys and at least one lock-laden panel fell into the river!). Off came the gratings, and the city invited four popular street artists to decorate temporary sidings, including eL Seed.
Paris-based eL Seed is known worldwide for mixing Arabic calligraphy with urban spray paint techniques. He calls his stunning work “calligraffiti”; it already tags buildings in Paris and further abroad in Tunisia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates. This temporary exhibit gives a boost to his artform and message as he works to promote wider Arab culture, breaking down common stereotypes and misconceptions. Where better to broadcast than from France?
Arabic script is surfing a hipster wave. Spot it in highbrow galleries and on lowbrow tee-shirts. Its structure is gorgeous: delicate loops, dramatic swirls, and juicy dots that look ready to burst. It grew as a way to transmit the messages of the Quran, the book that played a major role in developing and popularizing the Arabic language. New styles of Arabic script put across a very contemporary image of the Arab world and Arab identity.
“Calligraphy is a venerated form of Islamic art,” said eL Seed, “Middle East youth say calligraphy’s an old-school art form for old people. Through graffiti, I feel I’m carrying cultural traditions into modern reality while keeping my heritage alive.” He added, “I hope one day I will write a book on all those human experiences I have lived through my art.”