It was the brainchild of gallery owner and Street Art impresario Medhi Ben Cheikh. Supported by Paris officials, he already had a history of attracting popular street artists to his 13th arrondissement neighborhood to paint large murals. When he learned that a building overlooking the Seine was to be knocked down, he hatched this monumental “art-lab”.
“It has been quite a thrill,” he told the Wall Street Journal. A decade ago, the former high-school art teacher opened his Galerie Itinerrance in Paris, cultivating contacts with the likes of American graphic designer Shepard Fairey (made famous for his Obama “Hope” poster) and Green Prophet fave, Franco-Tunisian Arab calligraphist eL Seed.
Ben Cheikh invited 105 visual artists from 18 countries to redecorate the structure. (Its 36 apartments formerly housed railroad workers.) Each time he learned a street artist was coming to Europe, he’d reach out to pull them aboard his project.
Artists worked for seven months to “graff” 4,500 square meters of interiors, façades and stairwells, donating their work in exchange for accommodation and materials. All were cool with the notion that their art would be destroyed with the building.
The end product was a wild mosaic of street-art trends, including works by artists from Iran, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia.
The Iranian street artist A1one combined Arabic calligraphy with stunning portraiture (images above and below).
Paris-based artist Rodolphe Cintorino created a horrifying vision of war-torn Syria, hanging dozens of empty spray paint cans over a map of the country, symbolizing bombs in mid-air.
The variety of styles is captured in the short video below:
Calligraphy by el Seed covered one of the outside walls (see lead image).
“Even if Arabic calligraphy is standardized, [el Seed] reinvented a new typography just like the first street artists did using Latin letters inside speech bubbles,” Ben Cheikh explains. The new Arabic script “puts across a very contemporary image of the Arab world and Arab identity.”
Maryam was one of two Saudi women who painted dressed in hijab. “Maryam and her sister graff all year in Jeddah,” says Ben Cheikh. “Even with all the restrictions, you can try to live your passion.”
El Seed has conducted graffiti workshops in Doha and Jeddah but thinks the Saudi capital is a tougher audience. “It’s stricter there,” he says. “I can’t imagine someone graffing in Riyadh.”
The Tour Paris 13 project goes entirely digital for the next two weeks, so if you missed the actual exhibit there’s still a chance to check out the images online.
All images from Galerie Itinerrance