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Even If You Don’t Know Arabic, These “Lost Walls” Will Speak to You

Do you know calligraffiti? It’s the language that neglected human landscapes use to sing their blues—and reds, yellows, and blacks—to astonished passersby. It’s also the genre that Tunisian street artist eL Seed used masterfully to turn a four-week road trip along his country’s back roads into a colorful dialogue with 24 “lost walls” that he transformed into monuments to forgotten beauty.

His creations—here a blue phrase glowing sinuously on a pale dome, there a red word blazing from a sun-blank wall–exist at the intersection of journeying and poetry. And whether or not you know Arabic, the frozen swordplay of the letters themselves captivates. “Even if you don’t speak Arabic and don’t understand the script, seeing it written brings an emotion,” he explains. “Before it speaks to the eye, it speaks to the soul.”

He conceived the work as a mix of discovery and recovery, setting out to find the places that somehow spoke to him, and to give voice to the history they’d weathered and that the world had largely forgotten. “When you have a wall with certain texture and it has a certain history, that’s when the wall speaks to me,” El Seed says. “I can feel it like a conversation. It sounds weird, but that’s what happens.” The result is a distillation of the place and its people into “a script I create to reflect what they tell me.”

His journey is gathered into a book, Lost Walls, which was released this spring. The walls meanwhile continue to shine their stories and those of the human life going on around them. Or as El Seed puts it, “the wall is witnessing the life of those people.”

For more information: eL Seed Official Website, @eLSeedart on Twitter

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Jennifer MacKenzie

Poet, writer and teacher Jennifer MacKenzie grew up on Bloomcrest Dr. in Bloomfield Hills, MI, which inspired her to wonder about places with patterns other than floral. Following her education at Wesleyan University's College of Letters and the University of Iowa's Writers Workshop, she followed a zig-zag course that included a pilgrimage across the top of Spain and a long sojourn in Syria in pursuit of the language of Muhammad al-Maghout and Moudthaffar al-Nawwab. While in Damascus she completed the books of poems "Distant City" and "My Not-My Soldier" (forthcoming from Fence Books) and edited the magazine Syria Today. Her poems and essays can be found in numerous journals including the Kenyon Review online, Guernica, Quarterly West, and Lungfull. She currently lives in New York.

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