This Has to be the Most Complex Mural Ever Done

Mokattham Mountain overlooks the Egyptian slum of Manshiyat Naser, famously known as Garbage City. It’s a Cairo neighborhood comprised of decrepit buildings. Bags of garbage spill from the balconies, rooftops and streets between them. From any other angle, Manshiyat Naser’s crooked brick ruins look like a giant landfill. But when you stand atop Mokattam Mountain, something breathtaking happens.


A giant anamorphic mural of swirling white, orange and blue appears, spanning across 50 buildings. From any other angle, the design is illegible, but from this spot, a quote from a 3rd Century Coptic Bishop appears.

“If one wants to see the light of the sun, he must wipe his eyes.”

The mural is titled “Perception”, and was completed by a team of 20 painters under the guidance of eL Seed, a Tunisia-born, Paris-raised street artist, all without the knowledge of the Egyptian government whose strict laws prohibit artistic expression. Perception is the latest of many murals by eL Seed in his distinctive “Calligraffiti” style that are scattered around the world, yet it’s the one that has gained the most attention. This can be attributed to its powerfully poignant symbolism and location, combined with its impressive technical execution.


After taking a photograph of the city from the top of Mokattham Mountain and laying a sketch of his artwork over the top in photoshop, eL Seed set to work. Using the bricks as a grid he lay out a huge black outline, leaving negative space for his team to fill in the colored sections. The true scale of the painting was far beyond the artist’s initial prediction, yet he and his team were not discouraged. Over 3 weeks of working around the clock brought the giant artwork to completion.


When eL Seed chose Manshiyat Nasr for his project years ago, his own perception of the neighborhood was similar to most. He thought he would at least bring something beautiful to a community accustomed to squalor. From the outside, that is all that it seemed, but as eL Seed began to spend more time there, he discovered a very different reality.



“I was wrong about the people, and wrong about the place,” he says. “They don’t live in the garbage, they live from the garbage.”

The residents of Manshiyat Nasr have essentially created an efficient, human-powered recycling system where piles of trash are brought back to the city every day. Families who specialize in paper, glass or plastic, sort the garbage into groups and sell the recyclables on. What looks like a community suffering in squalor, is in fact one that has created a self-sustaining economic model.

The quote in the artwork spreads a message of withholding judgment of people because of their circumstances.

“Even the people that were not painting, they were welcoming us. It was the most welcoming place I’ve ever been. Every time we go to a new building, we don’t know what to expect,” he says. “You reach for one ledge and someone offers you some tea and food. It’s always a positive attitude, and that’s what we tried to absorb.”


Upon completion, eL Seed said that the mural would stay as long as the community allowed, and if a new building were to be erected that would change the composition, then so be it. He is planning to return to the community in the coming months to celebrate the release of a book and documentary on the project.

“It’s just a piece of art that captures a moment. It’s the story behind it that I think is more interesting. It’s a symbol,” eL Seed says, for how, “if you want to see the right image, you must change your perspective.”



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