Part Big Daddy Kane, part Remrandt van Rijn, Mustafa Maluka is taking the international art scene by storm with a contemporary brand of portraiture as culturally and stylistically complex as the world we live in. Dylan Culhane investigates the phenomenon. prodigal son mustafa maluka Eerily penetrative eyes stare out from bleary, dribbled visages caught in a vice between Pop Art and the Renaissance. It feels impolite to keep staring, but you just can’t help it. Combining the zeal of graffiti art with the sensibility of contemporary graphic design, his work might be called playful were it not for an air of solemnity in the gaze that confronts us. Suspended amidst a frenzy of abstract graphic elements, the facial expressions of his subjects are rendered with the kind of grace and reverence usually reserved for religious portraiture, as hypnotic as they are interrogative. The art of Mustafa Maluka is, if anything, very easy on the eye. An unnerving realism is offset by the naïveté of boldly patterned backgrounds that demonstrate a superb command of colour and composition. Well versed and actively involved in underground street culture, Maluka’s style bears traces of the spray-can aesthetic insofar as its emphasis on decorative cartoon hues. A deft painterly touch nevertheless distinguishes his technique from that of the street artist. Using faces from magazines as his point of departure, Maluka reworks these anonymous facades into hypothetical icons in the throes of surreal decay. His characters are birthed in an imaginary context that transcends place, wealth, class and religion but remain rooted in a conceivable reality.