Arabic calligraffiti artist eL Seed is well-versed in the art of choosing an epic canvas. After all, some of his most iconic work has risen up triumphant from the unlikeliest landscapes such as the slums of Cairo, and the minaret of Jara Mosque in his hometown of Gabes, in the south of Tunisia. However, his latest work - a sculpture in the desert of AlUla, an ancient oasis in Saudi Arabia - may be his most breathtaking project yet.
The Mirage is inspired by classical Arabic love poet Jameel Bin Ma'mar who belonged to the Banu 'Udhra tribe which was renowned for its poetic tradition of chaste love, and is part of the site-responsive Desert X AlUla exhibition exploring desert culture running 31 January - 7 March 2020.
eL Seed explains, "In the 7th century, Jameel Bin Ma'mar was famous as a lover of the lady Buthayna from a neighbouring tribe. The story of their romance is that Buthayna’s people turn down Jameel’s marriage proposal because they feel Jameel’s verses praising their love have compromised her honour - merely saying that a woman loved a man was considered a blot on her honour in ancient Arab tribal society. Buthayna is forcibly married off to another man, but she and Jameel continue to be in love with each other, although they never consummate their love. Jameel continues to visit her at Wadi ‘l-Kura (Al Ula), and to appeal in verse of his longing. 'If only the prime of the youth were new and old times come back, Buthayna, should my poetry spend a night in Wadi AlQura, then I’m happy.'"
On choosing the verse he decided to bring to life, the artist continues, "These words summarise the love the poet has for this region and I choose them to shed new emphasis on it to residents as well as visitors. The poetry offers a lens through which to witness the entire landscape. The words come from within the heart of the region and are, in many ways, an ode not only to one woman, but to nature itself. The Mirage acts as a metaphor for the love Jameel had for Buthayna; a love so infinite, ever longing to be reached and grasped, like a mirage."
eL Seed even has this tip for visitors: "Find the letter 'Lam' (ل) and maybe you can enter into The Mirage and stare at the landscape through the words of Jameel."
Photos: Instagram @elseed @wbaqer @chebmoha @lance.berger