In Zahra Marwan's numerous illustrations, she inserts magic into everyday life. Through distinct line work and often a few poetic lines, the everyday is transmuted into something beautiful and enduring. Opening on Jan. 5 at the Harwood Art Center (1114 Seventh Street NW) with a formal reception to be held that same evening, from 6 to 8pm is Marwan's When Life Becomes Floral, a selection of works completed in the aftermath of Marwan's father's death, which coincided with spring blooming in the high desert. Marwan unpacked her thoughts, processes and inspirations for the work ahead of its opening.
Alibi: What can you tell us about the content of this show? Where did these illustrations come from and when were they made?
Marwan: I started most of the illustrations for this show in October and have continued making pieces up to now, really. They're mostly composed of floral motifs, bright colors, travel [scenes] and a hint of grief, with a few being starkly black and white. They are based on lingering ideas from the past year and the confusion of experiencing my father's quick and unexpected death. I've used sketches, ideas and memories that I've kept on the side that I'm bringing to completion.
Is this a cohesive body of work with a single theme of sorts, or a collection of various unrelated works?
This is a cohesive body of work revolving around my experience of grief and traveling the 8,000 miles back home to Kuwait. I had just turned 27 when my father passed away. It was quick and unexpected, and I didn't arrive in time to say goodbye, but I made the emergency trip home. My flight back to New Mexico was a few hours after his funeral. I was profoundly confused and in pain. Spring was blooming in Albuquerque, and I continued going to my flamenco classes at the university. The show is an investigation of a question I asked myself at the time: How can I feel so much pain, and life be so beautiful?
How did you approach each of these pieces?
I approached these pieces by reflecting on imagery of my dad, abstracting the travel back home and by including imagery of the sea, where some of my fondest memories reside. They also include imagery of rituals which I wasn't prepared to take part in. These illustrations are composed of extracts of memory, abstractions of events and the sentiments which followed his death. The real life experience of losing someone I love and what I had imagined were so different. I was so confused why spring was blooming, life becoming warm, people friendly, while I felt such deep pain.
What inspires you to sit down and illustrate a scene?
I like to share stories that I've lived, and to give a certain exaggeration to real life. Story-telling banal situations in an embellished way is a big part of my culture. People spend nights gathered, adding humor and details to mundane situations. Illustrating my experiences functions as a journal of sorts, and creating them gives me relief.
What are your materials you use?
I like the washes, ease, opacity and forgiveness of watercolor. Though, sometimes I wonder if I like it because I'm impatient and it dries so quickly.
How do you stay motivated to create?
I've made it an integral part of my life and main focus, which took a long time to do. It feels like a journal or visual diary in a way. It's another way to digest experiences, feelings or normal day-to-day life.
What do you hope that people who visit the show will take away from it?
I hope that people who visit will enjoy the floral motifs, the line work and the flat imagery. I hope the aesthetic and simplicity will be pleasant. I hope that the imagery will be relateable, and that they will enjoy a small dialogue on death.
Anything else that you'd like readers to know?
My father had made light of his situation. Our phone calls leading up to his sedation in the ICU were full of jokes, and when I'd cry he'd say, “Don't cry! What am I the first person in the world who's going to die?” His death has so far been the most painful experience of my young and turbulent life.