Zahra Marwan’s watercolor paintings are so whimsical and bittersweet, they might make you nostalgic for a place you’ve never been — unless, like her, you’ve also split your life between Kuwait and New Mexico.

 

Marwan calls her work “Two Desert Illustrations” in reference to the two regions she has called home. She was born on the sandy seashores of Kuwait City, but since age seven, she’s lived among the mountains and mesas around Albuquerque.

 

“It took me a while to understand that land in New Mexico is as important as sea is to Kuwaitis,” Marwan says. “When I would hear land, land, land, I would be like, why so much obsession with land?”

 

After all, while the Southwest has age-old agricultural traditions, only a tiny fraction of Kuwait’s small landmass is arable. It’s the warm saltwater that teems with life.

 

“It’s a seafaring culture,” she explains. “The art in the ancient civilizations in Kuwait, there’s always fish. Before the wealth of oil, it was the wealth of the sea.”

Sure enough, pen-and-ink fish dart through some of her illustrations. In others, the waves buoy swimmers, boats, and even a passing cow.

 

These days, Marwan is landlocked in the high desert, living in Albuquerque’s Barelas neighborhood and working out of a studio at the Harwood Art Center. And, yet, she finds her way back to the waters of her childhood each time she dips her paintbrush in pigment.

 

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