The Manshiyat Nasr ward in Cairo is home to the Zaraeeb, a community of Coptic Christians who serve as the city’s garbage recyclers. Over a period of three weeks in March 2016, a massive mural, covering nearly 50 buildings, emerged in Manshiyat Nasr. French-Tunisian street artist eL Seed’s Perception is an enormous piece of Arabic calligraffiti spelling out words from the third-century Coptic bishop Saint Athanasius of Alexandria: “Anyone who wants to see the sunlight clearly needs to wipe his eye first.” The anamorphic mural is fully legible only from a specific point on nearby Muqattam Mountain.

It’s easy for majority Egyptians to see the Zaraeeb as outsiders; they’re Christians in a majority Muslim country, and people who handle the discards of others. A major purpose of the piece is to question “the level of judgment and misconception society can unconsciously have upon a community based on their differences,” eL Seed has said.

In a June 2016 TED talk, eL Seed noted that his project was “not about beautifying a place by bringing art to it,” but about “switching perception and opening a dialogue” with a community about which many people know very little.

This is the winning project from the 2019 International Award for Public Art

Jen Dolen is a photographer and is on the editorial team for Public Art Review.

From Public Art Review #55, where this article originally appeared as “Switching Perception.”