Miami Artist Asif Farooq Kicks Heroin Habit, Makes Cardboard Weapons

Asif Farooq stooped over a metal sink in a Jackson, Mississippi Huddle House restaurant. Feverishly scrubbing away at the mountain of pots and dishes in front of him, he tried to wash away his doubts about whether he'd finally found a way to kill his 20-year heroin addiction.

"I constantly fell asleep, and threw up on a girl in my math class."

It was 2010, and Farooq was in the final stages of a seven-month stint at the nearby Caduceus Out-Patient Addiction Center (or COPAC), a rural 23-acre facility for hard-core addicts. Farooq had been in similar spots before, and every time, his addiction had returned. But this time, the thought of a relapse made him angry.

"The patients at COPAC all believed I was the first one who was going to start using. It angered me. I thought the most rebellious thing I could do was not get high," the 34 year-old artist says today.

Asif Farooq (front) and Typoe pack heat.
Asif Farooq (front) and Typoe pack heat.

Location Info


Primary Projects

151 NE 7th St.
Miami, FL 33132

Category: Art Galleries

Region: Downtown/Overtown


Asif Farooq: Primary Projects, 151 NE Seventh St., Miami; 786-615-9308; Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is free.

The Kendall native found one way to make that rehab stint different. To cope with the tedium of group therapy sessions, the stifling hours alone, and the homesickness, he'd begun making eerily realistic revolvers and pistols out of cardboard. He had to fight the center's bosses to get the materials he needed.

"Like any good junkie, I had a list of demands that included being allowed to use razor blades or the X-Acto knives and glue I use to make my guns," he says. "Luckily, they accepted and allowed me to work on my art in my free time."

He gave the guns as gifts to fellow patients, but when he returned to Miami in December 2011, the pieces opened new doors for him in the fine art world. Miami's Primary Projects caught onto the AK-47s and AR-style assault rifles carefully sculpted from used Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal boxes and other trash and gave him a breakout show during Art Basel 2012.

Now, as 2014 begins, Farooq is one of Miami's most inspiring art tales — a talent with a unique vision that promises to make bigger waves this year with everything from a full-scale fighter jet made from cardboard to plans to transform Primary's full space into a twisted turn-of-the-century hunting milieu.

"People have no idea how talented Asif is," says Primary Projects' cofounder and artist Typoe, who, along with his partner BooksIIII Bischof, is planning exhibits with Farooq. "He is unlike any other artist I have ever known. His mastery of his craft — everything from glass blowing to welding and engineering — obsession with precision, and enthusiasm for his work are mind-blowing."

Farooq was born at Baptist Hospital and grew up in a quiet Kendall suburb in a middle-class home with his mother and father, who migrated here from Pakistan and Afghanistan. His father, Dr. Humayoun Farooq, was a civil engineer who worked for Miami-Dade County before starting his own business in the late '70s. Farzana, his mother, was a homemaker who later took over the family engineering firm when Farooq's father died of cancer five years ago.

Farooq says his parents placed a high value on education. "My father used to sit with me after school for several hours working on math and science problems after I finished my regular homework."

Farooq's siblings all went on to become professionals, but the insatiably curious Asif always felt like an outsider. "I was that skinny brown kid with the bifocals that teachers lumped with the three Korean girls," he says.

In fourth grade at South Dade's Gateway Baptist Elementary, Farooq found the artistic streak that would become his calling. "Instead of doing my assignment, I was drawing a picture of a Lamborghini Countach when the girls next to me and even some boys who never paid me attention started huddling to see my picture."

Not long after that transformative moment, the drug problems that would torment Farooq throughout his artistic career surfaced. He was kicked out of Glades Middle School for alleged drug abuse. Farooq denies he was using then but says he soon began taking drugs to spite the authorities who'd expelled him. By the time he was a freshman at South Miami Senior High, drugs were a regular part of his life.

"I constantly fell asleep, and threw up on a girl in my math class," he recalls. "Once I got into the powders — cocaine and heroin — that's when I dropped out of school and things became different."

Even as his school life was falling apart, Farooq's talent was still evident. At 15, he showed up at the Metal Man Scrap Yard near the Miami River to try his hand at sculpture. "It was run by a former Army staff sergeant... who encouraged me to weld bits of metal together as long as I took it all apart when I finished," Farooq recalls.

Farooq, who'd earned a GED after leaving high school, enrolled at Miami Dade College and later attended the Art Institute of Chicago. But he was booted from the school for forging an ID. "I never asked why it happened, and they never told me, and that was that," Farooq says. "I was into a lot of bad shit back then."

Back home in Miami in his early 20s, unemployed and with few prospects, Farooq spent close to a decade struggling with addiction, bouncing in and out of jail and rehab programs and building and repairing synthesizer keyboards for local musicians.

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I'd respect the artist if it were actually an original idea, but it's not even quasi original. Creating cardboard guns is a HOBBY shared by many people. Just check out all the YouTube videos from which Farooq LEARNED to make them. While it may be argued that all art is derivative, the so-called artist's blatant biting is hard to swallow...even for Miami. Notice how he never mentions the fact that he learned how to make his "art" from the videos of hobby enthusiasts. When did a hobby shared by mainly adolescent boys become art? Next items on Farooq's list: go-karts and airplanes. 


That is a pretty ignorant comment to make. Yeah, sure, maybe he learned how to make cardboard guns when he was in elementary school or middle school... Because YouTube existed then? And an original idea? Because famous painters around the world didn't learn from previous painters? Or an idea stemming from another? Your comment is irrelevant. Brito.. His 'art' is basically children's drawings. Oh wait! Or those 24ft canvas sheets hung up in museums with a black painted square on it? Um. Super artist dude. Super original. Before you hate and write all of this gibberish, think. He's building a life size "Polish MiG-21 fighter jet employing 200,000 parts, including a cockpit that spectators can climb into and retractable landing gear". I'm prettty damn sure he didn't get that off of YouTube when he was a teenager. What may be a hobby to you, may be the reason someone else wakes up in the morning.