Fish in Persian Gardens/Extracts of Poetry and Literature as Revolt
December 6, 2019–January 10, 2020
Sanitary Tortilla Factory, Albuquerque
Zahra Marwan’s exhibition at the Sanitary Tortilla Factory in Albuquerque pairs exquisite poetry with her illustrations, paintings on paper. The poems from the Arabian diaspora are so fresh, catching human experience in a few words, that they could have been written yesterday or a thousand years ago; the paintings respond to the poems with a childlike freedom of expression and an adult canniness of design. The poems and the paintings reflect back and forth like parallel mirrors that show slightly different worlds.
One of the short poems says: “Under the weight of locusts and grief / people saw him burning his old coat / among the jasmine plants.” The accompanying painting on brown-toned paper reveals the central figure, a man bent over with a match in his hand. The “old coat” and the fire burning it are almost amorphous, but the loops and twists of the wire hanger that the coat hangs on are drawn with amusing precision. Blue locusts fly at the top of the picture around the white desert-style houses. At the bottom, two foxes face each other in a box with keys on its sides. The painting is gently humorous even in its sadness. It reminds the viewer of Persian hunting scenes, Mughal paintings, the whimsical drawings of Edward Lear and Edward Gorey.
The poems and the paintings reflect back and forth like parallel mirrors that show slightly different worlds.
There is a sense of loss and grief, of forced exile and migration in these paintings, offset by Marwan’s endearing style. This kind of naïve style (frequently used by highly trained artists) often holds up well and is oddly effective at revealing details and complexities of emotion. The combination of great poetry and witty illustrations is a generous gift from the artist.