Here at MuralForm, we often talk about beautification and street art. Murals and public art has long been seen for its utility. That is, public art’s ability to make a place that needs a facelift a little better looking. Some street art accomplishes this in spades, but that’s really only part of what we mean when we talk about beautification.
Many muralists and street artists are brought into neighbourhoods with a perception problem, areas of a city that other neighbourhoods view as an “eyesore” or “dirty.” Naturally, these areas are often home to marginalized communities that have very distinct personalities and community spirit. The best street artists who make art in these areas will beautify the area, but do so by making art to captures what makes the neighbourhood beautiful already.
Take, for example, the neighbourhood of Manshiyat Nasr in Cairo, Egypt. Long home to Cairo’s marginalized Christian community, one area of the district has become known by a pejorative nickname: Garbage City. Much of the area lacks proper infrastructure, including electricity, running water, and sewers. But despite these obstacles, the area has thrived and is even home to the largest cathedral in the Middle East: The Cave Cathedral or St Sama’ans Church.
Garbage City, despite the poor perception of other areas of the city, performs an essential function for the entire city of Cairo: recycling. Area residents are involved in multiple recycling programs for the city. According to artist eL Seed, the Coptic Christian community “collects the trash of the city for decades and developed the most efficient and highly profitable recycling system on a global level.”
eL Seed loves the district for its lively culture and essential function for the city, so when he was commissioned to create some public art for the area, he decided to create something that spoke to these positive elements. The project is called, appropriately enough, Perception, and it’s an ambitious project that looks incredible, but only from a certain angle.
Perception is a collection of anamorphic pieces that cover almost 50 buildings in the district, but the picture they create together can only be seen from a certain point of the Moqattam Mountain. From there, you can see a beautiful and intricate work designed with bright colours and, most importantly, a beautiful message. In keeping with the Christian community that dwells Manshiyat Nasr, eL Seed used a quote from Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, a Coptic Bishop from the 3rd century. In Arabic, it reads “إن أراد أحد أن يبصر نور الشمس، فإن عليه أن يمسح عينيه” or “Anyone who wants to see the sunlight clearly needs to wipe his eye first.”
“In my new project ‘Perception,’” eL Seed says of the project, “I am questioning the level of judgment and misconception society can unconsciously have upon a community based on their differences.”
Beautification is often seen as the major function of street art, that it can bring something beautiful to areas that need it, but that doesn’t mean it should wipe over what’s already there. With Perception, eL Seed sought to capture the district’s heart, all while pointing out that certain perceptions are incorrect and harmful.