Day 6

'I just expected better': Reimagining a Muslim female superhero

When illustrator Sara Alfageeh first came across the X-Men character Dust, she was shocked by the character's cultural inaccuracy, so she put her own spin on the Marvel heroine.

'If you want it done right, do it yourself', said illustrator Sara Alfageeh

Sara Alfageeh re-illustrated the X-Men character Dust, after being unsatisfied with the original. (Sara Alfageeh)
Listen4:22

Not all superheroes wear capes — some of them wear abayas.

But for comic book megafans like Sara Alfageeh, representation alone isn't enough in the comic book world if the characters aren't culturally accurate.

That is why she was so frustrated when she saw the depiction of the X-Men character Dust.

"This is one of the very, very few characters who are visibly Muslim in the entire Marvel Universe and honestly, I was [very] unimpressed with it," she said.

Dust is a minor character in the X-Men series, who has appeared in the comic books since 2002. Her mutant ability is being able to turn into malleable cloud of dust.

According to the Marvel website, the character was born in Afghanistan, where she was sold into slavery before being rescued by the X-Men and taken to the fictional Xavier Institute in New York.

The 'latex costume treatment'

Reading the comics, one of the first things Alfageeh noticed was the character's stereotypical appearance.

"It's not a new issue to talk about the sexualization of female characters," she said. "But for it to even be applied to a traditionally-depicted Muslim woman, that was just hilarious to me."

Sara Alfageeh is an illustrator and this week she unveiled her own re-drawn version of Dust, better illustrating and reflecting the character's Afghan culture. (Sara Alfageeh)
 

"Honestly I was just terribly bored with the drawing — especially from a series that I hold deeply close to my heart. I just expected better.''

But it wasn't just about a bad drawing.

A new look

Alfageeh, who is an illustrator herself, also took issue with some of the glaring cultural inaccuracies within Dust's story — from the style of clothing she wore to the dialect she is said to speak in the comic.

The character's flawed depiction left her shocked and disappointed.

"Very little thought seemed to have been put into this character beyond the fact that she's supposed to be visibly Muslim," Alfageeh said. "A lot of things didn't add up for me."

So she decided to take matters into her own hands — and create her own set of re-illustrations of Dust.

The new sketches are based on what she says actual Muslim women are wearing.

"I wanted to know how would a character like that balance being practical, being fashionable, but also at the same time still preserving her priorities for presenting herself modestly."

In one outfit, Sara said she took inspiration from her own closet and her love of street clothing.

"She's wearing these long, loose-fitting crisp pants, and then on top of it is [a] long tunic with a split along the side so it's still easy to wear and easy to walk in."

She finished off the look with the X-Men's signature red 'X.'

On the lapel of Dust's jacket, Alfageeh made sure to include the X-Men's signature red 'X '


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