June 13, 2024

Artist-activist Mohammed Mubarak honors our icons through art

Mohammed Mubarak sat in his studio one sunny Los Angeles afternoon, working on his latest rendition of a mural of Marvin Gaye. This mural, among several others the artist has painted of Gaye throughout the years, is set to be showcased in Hollywood during Black Music Week in June 2022.

Photo: Tina Sampay

“Marvin Gaye was one great musical genius from the Motown era of the ‘60s and ‘70s. He accomplished a whole lot before he was tragically killed,” Mubarak told theGrio. “His music was an inspiration to me and I just thought I would continue to pay tribute to him through my art.”

Similarly, Mubarak’s studio is filled with powerful life-size murals of Black artists and figures. A mural of philanthropist Jacqueline Avant, the late wife of Clarence Avant who was killed in Beverly Hills last year is also in progress, sitting off to one side. 

Born in Compton in 1952, Mubarak has seen its African-American community experience various shifts and changes. Speaking with theGrio, he reflected on some of his fondest childhood memories.

“I have some memorable memories growing up in Compton. Compton is right on the outskirts of L.A County and the City of Los Angeles,” he explained. “When we had the rebellion that happened in 1965—called the Watts Rebellion—some 30-odd people were killed in a period of 4 days.” 

Following the Watts Rebellion and while still in high school, Mubarak decided to join the Los Angeles chapter of the Black Panther Party. He would come under the leadership of strong Black men of purpose like Bunchy Carter, who would later be killed at UCLA along with fellow activist John Huggins in 1969. 

“I stayed in the Black Panthers for about two years during high school and 1970 was when I left.” Mubarak recalled. “There was a lot of turmoil going on with the FBI trying to crack down on us, there was a lot of stuff going on,” said Mubarak. “A lot of people got killed, or went to jail.”

As fate would have it, a short prison sentence for bank robbery would ironically provide the space Mubarak needed to perfect his craft. Although he had been drawing since he was a kid, prison allowed him the time to focus solely on techniques that would ultimately make his art more in-depth and vivid.

“I’m glad I got caught. It gave me an opportunity to develop this talent to the point I could make something of myself when I got out,” said Mubarak.

A few years after leaving the Black Panther Party and before getting arrested, Mubarak met David Mosley, uncle of boxing legend Sugar Shane Mosley. 

“He is one of the greatest artists in this town; they are from Watts, the Mosley family,” said Mubarak. “Being around him, I learned a lot about painting. When I got to prison, I used that time to sharpen my abilities.”

Photo: Tina Sampay

When Mubarak is not painting, he is typically writing his boxing column or watching boxing matches in Las Vegas.

“I’ve been around boxing since the early ‘80s. Whether through my art, taking photos or writing my column,” Mubarak shared. “I met Don King and did a lot of work for him and Bob Arum, one of the greatest boxing promoters.”

Both Mubarak’s life and art journey have allowed him to cross paths with some of the most iconic figures in history. Most notably, he would come to develop a personal relationship with Muhammad Ali, who Mubarak called the “most humble man you would want to meet.” 

Those who haven’t met Mubarak may still be familiar with the work he is most proud of: local murals he has painted of historical figures around Los Angeles County. These include his tributes to activists Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King Jr., and several paintings inside of Compton City Hall.

Some of Mubarak’s favorite murals include portraits of  Barack Obama, Red Foxx, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin and local Congresswoman Maxine Waters.

“Knowing the knowledge of the individual is what inspires me to want to paint them, it’s the way I pay tribute to them. This is how I am going to leave my mark, by what I paint,” Mubarak shared. “Hopefully, there are young people who are behind me, or around me in the world today… I see a lot of them when I look on Instagram who are on the right track,” he quipped.

Tina Sampay, theGrio.com

Tina Sampay, also known as Slauson Girl, is a writer and journalist from South Central, Los Angeles. She is currently building and growing her own news platform and hopes to make Slauson Girl a trusted source for independent news and media. Her drive and intent is representation for marginalized communities–including the one she comes from.

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