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.
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.
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.
Send your story tips to Cultist at [email protected].