eL Seed’s “Mirrors of Babel” by Ken Galloway “I once read that our eternal quest as humans is to shatter our loneliness,” eL Seed told me when we first met in 2018. I’d just been hired by the City of Toronto to create a short documentary about the Unesco-prize-winning French-Tunisian street artist’s latest art installation for Nuit Blanche. Already being a fan of his art, I couldn’t wait to unpack the meaning behind this high-profile piece... Little did we know that only two years later, the artwork would become more relevant than ever.
In an era defined by cynicism, polarization and isolation, “Mirrors of Babel” stands as a towering beacon of tolerance, unity and hope. The 40-foot structure was created using interlocking pieces of reflective steel, which were elaborately cut and twisted into eL
Seed’s famous “Arabic calligraffiti” forms. In fact, this one- of-a-kind alphabet was used to create a tower out of a
poem written in 1903. “Prairie Greyhounds,” is a poem written by Mohawk poet, writer and performance artist E. Pauline Johnson, Tekahionwake. The poem was written as an ode to an emerging country; recounting a westward journey towards hope. In this poem, eL Seed found inspiration and a way to connect with Canada’s Indigenous history. The other major inspiration behind the work is the biblical tale of the “The Tower of Babel,” in which humanity was punished by God for its’ hubris (ie. trying to build a tower to the heavens). The punishment doled out? Banishment to different parts of the world, and the curse of incompatible languages.
Therefore, the very act of building this tower with lettering and language is a powerful and symbolic move. Furthermore, by continuing to explore the aesthetic beauty of Arabic script (which he described as “a secret language that held the key to realizing his own French-Tunisian identity) to explore a Indigenous voice, eL Seed has built a breathtaking monument to multiculturalism. “I made this tower out of mirrors that reflect the images of those who see it, is a visual testament to our unity,” he said. “So with this piece, I’m asking if we might unknowingly hold each others’ missing pieces.”
You can see the micro-doc I created for the city here: vimeo.com/300879922 Of course, this masterpiece truly comes to life through the interplay of light and shadow, so I was completely humbled and thrilled when eL Seed and Ron Doyle hired me to design lighting that would show off the piece in the best possible light at Lot42. You can see the result of this work here: vimeo.com/481400679/407f8f86ee
Credits Artist eL Seed Commissioned by Nuit Blanche Lighting Commissioned by Ron Doyle Lighting Direction Ken Galloway Lighting Mike Dunn Video Work Ken Galloway Rouzbeh Heydari Samson Dannetta