Where The Heroes At? Pop Artist Mubarik Jafery Says They’re Right Here Among Us

Mubarik Jaffery swears that comic books saved his life as a kid. Enter his solo show, Where The Heroes At at FN Designs in Dubai and it feels like you’ve accidentally discovered a comic book character’s top-secret lair. The Bat Phone will probably ring any minute and there has got to be a sleek purple sports car parked in the alley. Shields featuring each of the Arab country’s flags have been perfectly mounted on a large gray stand that adds a realistic effect. It feels like the absent heroes we’ve been waiting for will burst through the plaster and paint to claim their shields and unify as a team at any moment.

I snapped an installation shot of Mubarik's pop art alongside Arcadia Blank's rad tag at FN Designs

I snapped an installation shot of Mubarik’s pop art alongside Arcadia Blank’s rad tag at FN Designs

On the walls, Batman-like fighting words like BOOM! and BAM! in the style of pop forefather Roy Licthenstein have been reclaimed and regionalized using Arabic typography set in acrylic. Mubarik is a designer at heart and this is his first public foray into art. Perfectly timed for Middle East Comic Con (which runs concurrently this month from 3-5 April), Where The Heroes At gregariously asks us to consciously seek out the bionic, the kind, and the courageous among us. This is pop art with meaning.

Arcadia Blank (the mysterious street artist who is the object of my #artcrush), asked H.H. Sheikha Wafa Hasher Al Maktoum, Director and Curator of FN, if he could tag the gallery. She gamely left the door unlocked and provided a can of black spray paint and Arcadia snuck in and wrote, “Reality Wasn’t Built 4 Everyone.” The phrase couldn’t be more appropriate for Mubarik Jafery’s super power themed show. FN is quickly emerging as the go-to space in Dubai for outside the box, street and pop art.

Mubarik Jafery's shields mounted in the FN Designs gallery

Mubarik Jafery’s shields mounted in the FN Designs gallery

I had a blast (ZAM! WHAM!) interviewing Mubarik about his show:

DL: If you could be any super hero, real or imaginary, who would you be? What superpowers would you have?

MJ: Aaaaah yes what super hero would you be… many a night my brethren and I have sat in front of the glow of a TV screen talking in depth on this topic. Setting grounds rules is important: Not more then one power, cross over is allowed from different universes, DC or Marvel. Omnipotence is not allowed.

No easy answer, I will go with Wolverine for his awesomeness. No! Thor for his honor. No! No! Captain America for his sense of right. Wait! Hulk for his rage and invincibility from everything. Last one! Forge, who is mutant and can build anything. Just Kidding! I am going to go with Phoenix for telekinetic powers.
In the end I believe that the power you choose is a reflection of what is inside you.

Mubarik Jafery's chosen superhero, Phoenix

Mubarik Jafery’s chosen superhero, Phoenix

DL: Why are superheroes important to Arab society right now? Are there heroes among us?

MJ: I have heard of people who were exposed to a situation that they could never walk away from and it changed their lives. They took on the challenge, did what was right and kept doing it regardless of the consequences. These people who dedicate their life to making a change are heroes to me. And they truly exist.

DL: Your work is pop art and we need more of that in the Middle East. Are there messages that can only be communicated in pop art?

MJ: In my opinion (which is wrong most of the time anyway!) pop art has a sense of humor. It is fun and a kind of social commentary of the times. It can be casual and approachable. It laughs at itself. Pop art is not considered high art and maybe that’s one of the reasons it has not picked up a lot of momentum, but things are changing fast.

Captain America saving the day

Captain America saving the day

DL: All your super heroes have shields. Is there an element of physical battle involved? Or is this about protecting what is good and true about Arab culture?

MJ: The shields are definitely a metaphor for protection but to me they have always been a call to arms, to bring out the heroes. The idea was all around me- this is such a critical time for our evolution. We need to bring out the heroes.

The forefather of pop art, Roy Lichtenstein, has influenced Mubarik's work. Here is Lichtenstein's famous "Sweet Dreams Baby!"

The forefather of pop art, Roy Lichtenstein, has influenced Mubarik’s work. Here is Lichtenstein’s famous “Sweet Dreams Baby!”

BOOM! (in Arabic) by Mubarik Jafery. See the Lichtenstein influence?

BOOM! (in Arabic) by Mubarik Jafery. See the Lichtenstein influence?

DL: When you were a kid were you into comic books or cartoon super heroes. Do you think that today’s kids have superheroes to look up to right here in the Middle East or do they look to the West for that?

MJ: Comic books saved my life. I was a very geeky kid and the super hero world was my outlet. Spiderman was an unpopular kid. Hulk has anger issues that he needs to deal with. Thor has daddy issues. I mean these are life lessons!
I think these characters are universal. What we need to focus on is the messages that these heroes stand for. We need heroes to step up and be relatable.

The artist in a Superman t-shirt he designed for his own clothing line BRAVE. The tees came before the show and it's easy to see how "Where The Heroes At" is a continuation of this first project. More tees please, Mubarik!

The artist in a Superman t-shirt he designed for his own clothing line BRAVE. The tees came before the show and it’s easy to see how “Where The Heroes At” is a continuation of this first project. More tees please, Mubarik!

Good Ideas: ‘Where The Heroes At’ will run at FN Designs on Alserkal Avenue through 30 April. For timings and deets go here.