The Coptic community of Zaraeeb have been given the name zabaleen (or garbage people) because of their profession — collecting and sorting by hand the daily rubbish of Cairo. But the recycling work they carry out is not only highly profitable — it is a vital service in a city that produces around 14,000 tons of solid waste daily. For this reason the people of Zaraeeb don’t see themselves as the dirty ones — the real mess is Greater Cairo. It’s a matter of perception.
“We aren’t the zabaleen, they are — the rest of Cairo is.” This reported sentiment stands out in eL Seed’s discussion of his new self-funded project Perception in the Zaraeeb neighborhood in Cairo’s Manshiyet Nasser district.
Perception is monumental — an anamorphic artwork that covers more than 50 buildings, involved a team of 22 people, and took three weeks to paint. The large circular design, painted in the “calligraffiti” style eL Seed is renowned for, can only be viewed in its entirety from one specific point at the top of the neighboring Mokattam mountain.
As with many of his works, Perception uses a quote as the basis for an elaborate, interlinking Arabic design, this time from Saint Athanasius of Alexandria: “Anyone who wants to see the light clearly needs to wipe his eyes first.” Adding to the visual spectacle of the work, but also demonstrating the importance of the community in the creation of the project, the image was painted with fluorescent white paint that was illuminated for one night only when it was completed — a gift to the neighborhood that has given so much to Cairo.
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