Born in France to Tunisian parents, the artist eL Seed grew up at the confluence of two cultures, which informs his art—a blend of Arabic calligraphy and urban street art he calls “calligraphiti”–and his mission—to “[tear]down walls by painting them.”1 Adding a logical follow-up metaphor (dismantled walls open the way for travel) he declares art, “the shortest path from one [person] to another and a bridge between nations.”2 We could use more paths and bridges these days.
But first those walls have to come down, and that’s a challenge, because walls, whether personal or political, serve a purpose: to preserve and protect what’s inside against external threat. Tearing down your own can seem foolish, frightening, even traitorous; tearing down another’s, a declaration of war. So, absent a can of spray paint and artistic talent, how can we, resisting the inclination toward “separation” and “exclusion,” participate in the social and religious imperative to “[break down] the dividing wall of hostility” and bring the “far off…near?”3￼
Mixing metaphors may help. C.S. Lewis once wrote that we must “hatch or go bad,”4 which shifts the focus from destruction (of walls) to development (of what’s inside). Protective barriers, his metaphor suggests, are important at times—for maturation and growth, or rest and recovery. But those walls which keep us secure also keep us contained, limiting vision and restricting mobility. Too much time sheltered inside, and we risk social, psychological and spiritual decay. Emergence, however, enables evolution.
Having broken down, and broken out of, our own dividing wall, we are prepared to bring the far off near, by bringing ourselves to the far off. Like some of eL Seed’s works which require a literal journey to comprehend—a stroll over the Pont des Artists in Paris, for example, or a hike up a hill in Cairo—meaningful human connection calls us to cross those metaphorical paths and bridges.
Not to start a war. Not to collapse others’ walls with overwhelming noise, like Joshua conquering Jericho.5 But “to listen, to pay close attention with a quiet heart, with a waiting, opened soul, without passion, without a wish, without judgment, without an opinion.”6 To “sit at the feet” of another7, as we would before a work of art, acknowledging its singularity, appreciating its beauty, open to its potential revelation.
2 Quoting André Malraux, “Art is the shortest path from one man to another and a bridge between nations” (https://scenearabia.com/Culture/Art-is-the-Shortest-Path-Tunisian-Artist-eL-Seed-Creates-Collaborative-Zoom-Collag?M=True)
3 Ephesians 2:12-14 NRSV, NIV
4 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 169
5 Joshua 6:1-27
6 Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha, p.74
7 Drew G.I. Hart, “The Bible, Race, and White Supremacy,” The Bible for Normal People Podcast