3 Questions Digital Series

Zahra Marwan

An interview from Art in Embassies 3 Questions Digital Series with Zahra Marwan, who speaks about her creative process and artwork.

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Full Transcript

Hi, my name is Zahra Marwan. I work as an illustrator for picture books and a sort of official diary of my day to day life. There’s a large culture of storytelling. I don’t know if it’s because culturally family gets together and there isn’t much else to do other than to tell really long stories about really small subjects.

And oftentimes, when we’d wake up, my mom would start telling me about her dreams in detail . But I like to abstract dreams and include those. I try to incorporate elements of where I live now. I love Albuquerque as much as I love Kuwait. And the strange particularities of both places.

I often come back to the story of my family. That’s why we are Kuwaitis. Now I go through statelessness and the idea of citizenship and the luck of coming to a place where people treated me like I belong.

And why of course, is probably because they face their own recent history of cultural oppression, being indigenous or Hispanic. So it’s a question I often frequent and it’s often random, but largely based on memory and maybe race and belonging.

I also like stories that have nothing to do with me. When I have an idea, I have to write it down. So I usually write and I usually start by writing a sentence or two about what I’m doing because I forget I think my memory is really strong.

But it falters all the time, and by afternoon to evening, I forget I had initially wanted to do. So I made sure to say in the abstract, in the sentence words. And I began by imposing trace elements and working on a larger composition then I go in and add and remove things.

And then I put the final in it. I could use it on watercolor paper and in my mind’s eye color watches. I tried to to work with one color to create a competition. And I used to really like wash off basically and brush, but I used to water it down to it and it will switch over to

watercolor, which seemed logical. But now I really, really love that. I work with watercolors, living in a landlocked city I always feel a longing for the sea. I love the Arab Persian Gulf. I love the colors. It’s like sometimes turquoise, sometimes blue. It’s so warm. And every summer at the peak of summer, when the heat is so excessive that it just puts you to sleep on

accident in the afternoon. I paint in blue. I always wanted to be an artist. I grew up a first family in the suburbs, both in Kuwait and New Mexico, so I wasn’t really exposed to what art can be. And fortunately so, it took me a lot of time to realize what happened as I started drawing my peers from my

flamenco classes at the university and inspired to create a poster for them. But the Filmmaker Institute’s 30th anniversary festival is someone I really respect. And my art, my most important piece of advice is to remain sincere yourself, to write yourself in a way which no one else will read and really develop a voice and a sense of

self. I feel like that’s the most important thing to creating artwork, and it’s not how to maintain focus. I feel very lucky in that I’m really inspired about my deadlines. But what is art is emerging. Sometimes I’ll put everything aside to do this.