On Thursday April 7, Zarah Kamin passed away. Zarah was an undergraduate painter at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) remembered by loved ones as intensely compassionate, fiercely intelligent, and deeply private. Although she was just 21 years old, she made a lasting impact on her close circle of friends and had developed a distinctive, impactful voice as an artist.
Juanna Gutierrez, a current SAIC student and friend described Zarah as, “Very sweet, very giving, very tender. She always put others before herself.“
Her friend Avery Moon said Zarah was both warm and somber. “She was someone you could be really ridiculous with,” Moon said, fondly. Moon said that one of her favorite memories with Zarah was talking on the beach, staying up late, while Zarah would take her sandals off and walk by the water.
Friend and fellow SAIC student Quinn Koeneman called Zarah a talented painter who cared a great deal about issues of social injustice. He said,“She really cared about a lot of the political issues that our school talks about. She was really serious about the issues with corrupt police forces, was very serious about trans rights, was very connected with the people she surrounded herself with, which wasn’t a lot of people. But the people she did find, she was very close with.”
Ali Beydoun, a close friend of Zarah’s and architecture graduate student, said that Zarah had a tremendous capacity for empathy and was willing listen to the perspectives of others. Beydoun spoke about how Zarah had aspirations of being an art teacher. He said, “She would have made an amazing teacher because she was very understanding and very patient.”
Beydoun also remarked that Zarah was unusually mature given her age. He said, “I’m 28 years old and Zarah was 21. And the fact that I could have this intellectual conversation with Zarah shows how much older she was beyond her years.” Beydoun listed among some of his fondest memories vigorous discussions of politics, religion, and philosophy. Gutierrez reiterated this sentiment, stating that Zarah loved to cook for others and saw herself as an old soul.
Zarah’s works were explorations and quests for meaning, according to Koeneman. “She would do really simple paintings. Sometimes it was just junk from around her house arranged into a still life. But she was always trying to figure out why it was there and give these objects a purpose,” Koeneman said.
“In terms of painting her work was a lot of figures, drawings of people in different moods. She did a series of self-portraits. It was nice to see the work grow through the years,” Beydoun said.
Gutierrez described Zarah’s paintings as reminiscent of Basquiat in their childlike and playful quality. The works were often portraits of herself or others including her friends.
Koeneman said of her work,“She would do these paintings about how sad she was. If you look at her profile picture, it’s a self portrait and next to her you can see, really see her struggling with her own emotions in that portrait.”
Moon pointed out that Zarah’s work often explored lighter subjects and were often very colorful. “She loved flowers. I found a lot of floral pieces and sketchbooks filled with flower studies — a fact that her friend Juanna Gutierrez reiterated. Gutierrez said Zarah would often wear flowers or doodle flowers when she was sitting in class or on the train. There was a contrast between her colorful figurative work and the other things she was doing,” Moon said. She added, “[Zarah] also liked aliens.”
Although Zarah was not a particularly public person, she chose to invest her time and energy in developing close, meaningful relationships. At the same time, much of her worldview was focused on advocating on behalf of people she may have never met. Koeneman said of his friend, “She was someone who just cared really deeply about the world she was a part of and the people whose lives she was a part of.”
Gutierrez wanted people to remember her friend as brave. Despite her private struggles, Zarah Kamin was a light to those who knew her. She extended love to those around her and advocated for the most marginalized among us.