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Posted under: News Visual Arts

In West Philly, Street Artist Transforms W.E.B. Du Bois' Words Into Visual Art Through Arabic Calligraphy

Artist, eL Seed calls his work, "calligraffiti."

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When it comes to black history, W.E.B. Du Bois is pretty high up there in the black pantheon. One Tunisian-French street artist has made it his mission to honoring the civil rights activist and historian in a unique way on the streets of West Philly, according to the University of Pennsylvania.

A street artist known for covering walls with potent messages featuring elaborate and colorful Arabic script that he calls “calligraffiti,” el Seed was in invited to create a new work in Philadelphia by by Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture and Mural Arts Philadelphia as part of a project called (DIS)PLACED: Philadelphia.

You may remember the name Mural Arts Philadelphia; the organization has been behind several of the dope public works we have reported on in the last few months, including a new John Coltrane mural and Hank Willis Thomas' instantly iconic giant afro pick sculpture.

Inspired by lifelong neighborhood resident Kernard Shearlds, eL Seed wrote the words “Soul of the Black Bottom” in Arabic on the wall.

The West Philly neighborhood the mural resides in is often referred to as "Black Bottom" by community members. In addition to those five words, eL Seed rendered the following words from W.E.B. Du Bois’ 1920 book Darkwater: Voices From the Veil: “I believe that all men, black and brown, and white, are brothers, varying through time and opportunity, in form and gift and feature, but differing in no essential particular, and alike in soul and the possibility of infinite development.”

Photo: Steve Weinik/Mural Arts
Photo: Steve Weinik/Mural Arts

The quote was chosen for its hopeful poignacy, but also because of Du Bois' connection to the University of Pennsylvania. The scholar did the bulk of the research for his The Philadelphia Negro while working as an assistance instructor at the school.

Huda Fakhreddine, assistant professor of Arabic literature at the University's School of Arts and Sciences notes that the artwork “considers the theme of displacement across Philadelphia’s diverse communities and from the perspectives of four artists-in-residence of Arab heritage. With a global refugee crisis particularly acute in the Arab region, we chose the theme of displacementa term deliberately polyvalent for this project so as to allow the artists space for open exploration and deeper examination of the meaning as it relates to their own work, other guest artists, and their residency in Philadelphia.”

Photo: Steve Weinik/Mural Arts
Photo: Steve Weinik/Mural Arts

“By incorporating W.E.B. Du Bois’ words about race, identity, and belonging into his mural, [eL Seed] demonstrates how artistic expression offers a pathway to transcend cultures, languages, and borders,” said Ezekiel Emanuel, Penn’s vice provost for global initiatives.

Shout-out to eL Seed, doing it for the culture! 

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