Purely simple and cohesive artworks are often understood to evoke the most genuine of emotions. This sentiment stems from The Beatles crafting songs together with just four chords, or John Baldessari’s conceptual art movement of superimposing dots over peoples’ faces.
Local artist Zahra Marwan uses minimalism watercolor painting to construct whimsical portraits that reflect her world, influences, and past experiences.
Born in Kuwait to an ethnic group viewed as foreigners, Marwan spent her childhood often emigrating between Albuquerque and the Middle-East.
“I was born into a political situation that rendered my life difficult. My parents brought us to New Mexico – as if it was that simple, after a long and arduous immigration process. We weren’t recognized by any sovereign state; issued documents to leave Kuwait and not return when the U.S. issued us green cards. But we used those documents to visit family.” Marwan said.
During her adolescent years in Rio Rancho High School, Marwan drew praise for her artistry by both teachers and immediate family. Post-graduation, she left to study visual arts in Paris where the tuition was more affordable, and the academic culture more vigorous.
Marwan would eventually get married in France and move back to New Mexico, where she attempted to submit her artwork to UNM. However, in doing so, she faced backlash regarding her culture and beliefs from the art department, dissuading her initial prospects of pursuing art further in Albuquerque.
“I faced open discrimination when I tried to transfer my work to the art department at UNM, so I decided quickly finish my degree in Foreign Languages and Literatures. I was afraid to walk near the Fine Arts building on campus for nearly two years.” She said.
Despite prejudice, Marwan began her selling her work and eventually created a company to pursue artistry full-time. She credits the creative community and New Mexico’s strong art scene in supporting her and fellow artists.
Marwan’s artwork is defined by playful and vivid aesthetics that weave together to form a delicate paracosm. Most of her pieces share thematic undertones and incorporate animals, anthropomorphism, and Arabic text.
“I like to play with identity. Adding Arabic text to my work helps shed light on my demonized language. Anthropomorphism as a concept intrigued me when I was studying. The simplicity makes it accessible feasibly and fiscally, as working quickly allows me to work through an idea in one sitting and sell my images for real life prices.” She said.
Though seemingly simple, there are many intricate details in the paintings that are easily overlooked at first glance.
Her more recent work carries the weight of a personal tragedy that struck last year. Marwan’s father passed away in early 2016, and she was unable to visit Kuwait during that time. In harrowing circumstances, she kept creating every day to endure tragedy.
“When I was 18, I was really down and my father sent me an article clipping regarding a girl receiving attention for her own paintings. He insisted I push forth my pursuits. When my parents told me they were proud, it was rare and sincere. Art has been my means of dealing with grief.” She said.
“Drawing everyday helps me reflect and relive most of the events in my life. Happy, banal, tragic.”
Zahra Marwan recently won the Maker’s Muse Award by Kindle Project, an international art award given to eight artists each year. She will be in charge of Kindle Project’s Instagram account this week, from Oct. 24 – 31.
Locally, her artwork is available at Albuquerque’s Museum’s ArtThrive Exhibit and The Brew coffee shop until the end of October, as well as both the Downtown Grower’s Market and Railyards Market.Like this story? Sign up for our daily newsletter to get more of our best original news.