India Stoughton in The Economist:
The boxy red-brick buildings of Cairo’s Manshiyat Naser district are uniform in colour but slightly different in size and shape. Tightly packed together with a ramshackle appearance, they stand along narrow alleyways, where green and white sacks stuffed with rubbish lie in malodorous heaps. More bulging bags spill over balcony rails or pile up on rooftops beside dusty satellite dishes. One of Cairo’s poorest neighbourhoods and home to the city’s rubbish collectors, Manshiyat Naser is the unlikely canvas on which French-Tunisian artist eL Seed chose to paint “Perception”, a sprawling mural spanning more than 50 buildings. Odd corners and asymmetrical patches of brickwork have been daubed with blue, orange and white paint, startlingly bright amid the adhesive dust and dirt. On a flat, earth-covered rooftop on which a herd of sheep mills calmly several storeys above the ground, two segments of the low wall have been whitewashed and covered with uneven orange triangles fringed with black. They seem abstract and random. But stand in the cafeteria on top of Mokattam, a nearby hill, and all these mismatched patches of paint suddenly come together, forming a single phrase written in Arabic calligraphy and thus transforming a collection of ugly buildings into a poem that celebrates the neighbourhood’s history and culture.
Manshiyat Naser is home to the Zaraeeb, a Coptic Christian community known to the people of Cairo as zabaleen – “rubbish people”. “I thought these people were living in the garbage, when actually they were living from the garbage,” says eL Seed. “I got this switch of perception and realised that I was wrong…Sometimes when you want to see someone’s real face you just have to change the angle.” The phrase eL Seed chose is an aphorism attributed to St Athanasius of Alexandria, a third-century Coptic bishop: “He who wants to see the light of the sun must first wipe his eyes.” To the artist, it means that “if you want to judge anybody, you must first wipe away the dirt from your eyes, all the misconceptions that you have about somebody, or about a community. For me, the sunlight is the idea of truth.”