eL Seed and the Palestinian Olive Tree – St-Henri Sugar Mill gets Lush Awakening

Posted on April 12, 2011


eL Seed and I met a while ago. We actually crossed over an upcoming Montreal show being done at Sino Shop on the East side of the city. I saw the flyer and immediately hit Seed up. We met a day later in which I brought my calligraphy sketches and shared them with him on the train as we tunneled from the underground of one end of the city to the next.

There was no hiding the fact that we bonded very well to the extent that we had been brothers for a very long time. Seed and I would switch from French to English and discuss everything and everything. After having achieved many great artistic exploits during that same year, I was called one balmy afternoon by Seed in which he invited me to come down and photograph his new piece at the time: a Palestinian Olive tree.

In essence, Seed and I had shared a hotel room for M-Fest in which Seed gave an excellent panel on his art and took questions from the floor. Knowing Seed, I was not expecting anything more than something beautiful, compelling and poignant. In Montreal, I have been fortunate enough to get phone calls by Seed which really makes me feel really blessed to have such an artist as a beautiful friend and not just as an artistic acquaintance; every phone call I get from him always brings out the warmth in me, no doubt. Having said this, Seed gave me the ring and extended the invite, I came down back to my former neighbourhood of St-Henri, the neighbourhood I grew up in and heading into the old sugar mill with the usual fence jumping.

I came up the stairs and there she was, the Tree, incomplete, graffed in semi-stain-glass fashion, the bottom half still not given the riveting stain-glass effect. Amongst the carnage on the floor of the old, abandoned factory, the tree stood sovereign, confident, alone yet confident and there was Seed setting up his ladder and putting up his primer. The olive tree, attired with lush narrowed leaves and a rather scaly underside. Its stems thorny and sharp, Seed was actually dipping into his primer about twenty minutes after my arrival and start dropping the calligraphic touch to the tree by means of writing “Ismi Falasteen.”

coming up the north stairs of the sugar mill after jumping the fence and there he was and there she was, eL Seed and the Palestinian Olive Tree. Seed was illuminated to see me as always and I was just taken in awe by the hard work he was doing since the morn.

Before anything, one must notice the background of the piece itself. Seed had actually set the tree in a very natural setting amongst a valley and a rising sun. Despite such givens, the sun for me was setting however, this falls under one’s personal interpretation or, one may simply ask the artist directly themselves. Historically, olive trees found their genesis in Syria which was to later geographically spread to Greece and its surrounding islands. Seed set his tree spread along what would be a fertile Palestinian valley or creek where a stream and riverbank is visible. This in itself gives the art a more real-to-life touch as olive trees themselves are actually moisture loving entities that actually tend to flourish in wet areas. On a side note, olive trees do hold the banks with their sturdy roots as they provide food, shade and shelter for fish, birds and other wildlife; and help control the rush of flood waters–it is rather unfortunate that Israeli settler actually burn these.

notice the sunshine...

From here, Seed slapped on the Arabic and the afternoon was turning into evening which so quickly turned into night that Sunday. The presence of the tree itself brings much conversation and dialogue about the Palestinian predicament under occupation as well as how this very occupation affects this very industry. Had Seed not done the piece, this article on my would not have seen the dawn of light on this page and hence, one valuable piece of awareness would not have been written of concerning the situation in Palestine and the olive industry subject to such difficult economic impacts.

From here, one must be aware that it is not possible to overestimate the importance of olives to the Palestinian economy. Not only are olives the single largest crop in what remains none other than a largely agricultural economy, but they have a deep cultural significance as a symbol of traditional society and ties to the land.  I believe it is for some these reasons aforementioned that my brother Seed opted to do the olive tree. True, he did have the intent of presenting this work of art as a gift to the people of Palestine as a gesture of solidarity and awareness and it is unfortunate that this work of art is no longer present in the sugar mill as it has already been painted over. In essence, it is estimated that olive trees account for almost 45% of cultivated land in Palestine and in good years can contribute as much as 15-19% of  its agriculture output.  Given that agriculture accounts for nearly 25% of Palestine’s GDP, olives are a salient aspect of the Palestinian economy and estimates suggest that about 100,000 families depend to some extent upon the olive harvest for their overall livelihoods.

Gene was dropping his photography as well while our boy and khouya and young haboub Taf was overseeing Seed's work, I was chilling in the back.

There is no concealment over the fact that harmful impacts of Israeli policy have, over the many years, included settler violence sanctioned by the Israeli government, as settlers are armed by Israel, where incidents in which illegal Israeli settlers have uprooted or burned tens of thousands of olive trees during their attacks against Palestinian families and farmers alike. As for Gaza, the picture is even gloomier since inhabitants cannot even get olives from the West Bank olives since the blockade started.

Despite the reality that eL Seed’s olive tree no longer stands at the factory, the photography here has captured it and of course, Seed can always erect another one. Moreover, despite this, Seed, like any artist in the game, is far too well familiar with the fact that one’s art will always be subject to getting painted over, the only hope is that it would last a bit longer than expected.

Although the olive tree is no longer present at the sugar mill, photographs of it are still around and it was a pleasant surprise to see the olive tree on a flyer for a Chicago event in which the wonderful brothers and sisters there opted to use Seed's piece (of course with permission). Hamdulillah, shukr Allah.

Photographer and vocalist Samantha G dropped in after jumping the fence as well. Seed was done the masterpiece and the sun was set, it was getting cold and we all called it a day.