Asif has seen things, he’s got the stare. In the Summer of 2007 he was putting together his first AK-47 out of cereal boxes. It’s was one of his earlier attempts at staying busy, staying distracted. This is how he would survive heroin. This is how you block out the voices, the specters that would whisper to him and try to drag him back into that all too familiar hell.

Apparently either they were louder than he could have imagined or one addiction just replaces another, eight years later I’d walk into his hanger for the first time there in Doral, on the outskirts of Miami and set eyes on a no shit paper MiG-21 airplane. I say paper, but it was more like layer upon layer of corrugated cardboard had been compressed into a material more durable than any wood. This is definitely what you’d call a physical manifestation of insanity, well survival I guess.

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Via Asif – The airplane project, Balalaika, has taken seven years thus far. Upon completion, it will have hundreds of moving parts and total mechanical functionality. Its landing gear extends and retracts; its jet engine spools up. Using only paper and glue it holds itself together using purpose-designed paper components–milled on site. It is based on  Mikoyan Gureyvich MiG-21 cold war era jet fighter.

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Its value as an art piece lies in its labor, design, logistics,  and its hard mirroring of reality. Our changing world asks difficult questions of us as individuals and as citizens. The plane seeks to address both our unique self worth and changing geoploitical realities in the form of labor and thought.


Made from fragile paper, the airplane and its million-plus parts are more akin to a Tibetan Mandala than they are to classical western sculpture of any style. The inherent impermanance and poetry of life is best realized in a work that doesn’t sacrifice its message for stability. Not intended to be a monument, it is just simply big. In fact, it is 1.0588 to 1 times life size.

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The fighter itself is all the more special because the act of even attempting it is its greatest act of defiance.