Zaria Forman. She lives in a world of her own. She is similar to one of her portrayed icebergs. She moves on the sea, melting and reflecting the changes of our time. Visualizing the beauty of nature on our planet in drawings made in a perfection that people are feeling drawn into. Quite unique. In the last ten years she showed her artwork in more than 50 exhibitions in places from New York to Miami, from France to China.
Project Ice to Islands
Your artwork seems to take people on a journey… Tell us about your journeys between Greenland and Maldives and the central element in your artwork, water.
You’re right, water is a central element to my work. It is so deeply connected to these landscapes I’m trying to protect. In September 2013, with two others artists, I took a journey to the Maldives, the lowest-lying country in the world, which is slowly being swallowed by the sea. Exploring the flat islands, I felt a dueling sense of power and fragility. The looming, vast ocean demanded my attention, as it closed in on each tiny island.
Traveling with me on these adventures were two artists, painter Lisa Lebofsky and filmmaker Drew Denny. From our shared experiences together, the three of us developed Ice to Islands, a project documenting disappearing landscapes and sharing the stories of people most affected by climate change. Ice to Islands invited viewers to share the urgency of the Greenlandic and Maldivian predicaments in a productive and hopeful way. Our goal was to facilitate a deeper understanding of these crises, helping to find meaning and optimism amidst the chaos of melting, sinking ground.
During our month in the Maldives, the changes due to rising seas were evident. We visited the Maldivian Department of Meteorology to discuss this with meteorologists and climatologists. The head of the department explained, chillingly, that if sea levels rise 88 centimeters, 80 percent of the Maldives will be gone. According to current scientific predictions, this could happen by the year 2100.
We encountered a range of responses to climate change among the people we met on the islands. Almost everyone was well aware of the situation, yet they seemed unconcerned about the future of their homes. I wonder now if they were in denial. Acknowledging the imminent disappearance of one’s entire homeland must be devastating. The Maldives are situated atop a submarine ridge of natural coral, which many locals believe will grow faster than the seas can rise, lifting their islands to safety. But this is not possible: ocean warming and acidification are destroying the delicate coral ecosystems. Others are well aware of the current scientific predictions and are purchasing land in Sri Lanka and other locations for their families, for when the time comes to relocate.
Greenland is another threatened landscape very close to my heart, because it is where I first discovered the immediacy of climate change. During my first trip to Greenland in 2006, I heard the local Inuits speak of vast ice fjords that are not freezing as they once did, challenging the lifestyle of the subsistence hunting communities that dot the coastlines. The fjords are the communities’ hunting grounds for seal, walrus, and other animals that provide sustenance, warmth and other crucial facets of life necessary for Arctic survival. Insufficient ice severely limits their hunting grounds. Greenland has no railways, no inland waterways, and virtually no roads between towns. Their major method of transportation is by boat around the coast in summer and by dog sled in winter (which, ten years ago, made up most of the year). Without frozen fjords, their dogs and sleds are rendered useless, and many cannot afford to travel very far by boat. This is just one of innumerable ways the warming Arctic is affecting the Inuit way of life. Learning about all of this instilled in me a need to play a part in solving the crisis, with the skills and passion I have for drawing. Beyond Greenland, the entire planet is affected. I followed the meltwater from the Arctic to the Equator in an attempt to draw the connection between two seemingly disparate landscapes that are undoubtedly linked by the climate crisis.
In August 2012, I led a four-week Arctic expedition up the Northwest coast of Greenland. Called „Chasing the Light,” it was the second expedition, the mission of which was to create art inspired by this dramatic geography. My mother, Rena Bass Forman, had conceived the idea for the voyage, but did not live to see it through. During the months of her illness her dedication to the expedition never wavered and I promised to carry out her final journey, which I did, scattering her ashes amongst the icebergs she loved so much. This past Spring I had the opportunity to return to that place on an expedition with NASA’s Operation IceBridge. It was incredibly powerful to be able to visit my mother again in this place that was so special to us both.
Apparently you have been drawing since your childhood. The pastel work is quite challenging. How did you develop your technique to this perfection and what are the essential elements of this technique? Honestly, it’s years and years of practice rendering minute details. It’s almost a feeling, I can’t explain it. I guess technically, it begins with all the photographs I take when I’m traveling or the small-sketches I make on site. Once I return to the studio, I draw from my memory of the experience, as well as from the photographs, to create large-scale compositions. Occasionally I will re-invent the water or sky, alter the shape of the ice, or mix and match a few different images to create the composition I envision. I begin with a very simple pencil sketch so I have a few major lines to follow, and then I add layers of pigment onto the paper, smudging everything with my palms and fingers and breaking the pastel into sharp shards to render finer details.
The process of drawing with pastels is simple and straightforward: cut the paper, make the marks. The material demands a minimalistic approach, as there isn‘t much room for error or re-working, since the paper’s tooth can hold only a few thin layers of pigment. I rarely use an eraser––I prefer to work with my “mistakes,” enjoying the challenge of resolving them with limited marks. I love the simplicity of the process, and it has taught me a great deal about letting go. I become easily lost in tiny details, and if the pastel and paper did not provide limitations, I fear I would never know when to stop, or when a composition was complete!
Art, fragility of nature & climate change
Your water & ice artworks include a message. Give us a short insight into this message.
I believe artists play a critical role in communicating climate change, which is arguably the most important challenge we face as a global community. I have dedicated my career to translating and illuminating scientists’ warnings and statistics through an accessible medium, one that moves us in a way that statistics may not. Neuroscience tells us that humans take action and make decisions based on emotion above all else. Studies have shown that art can impact our emotions more effectively than a scary news report. My drawings explore moments of transition, turbulence, tranquility and fragility in the landscape, allowing viewers to emotionally connect with a place they may never have the chance to visit. I choose to convey the beauty as opposed to the devastation of threatened places. If people can experience the sublimity of these landscapes, perhaps they will be inspired to protect and preserve them.
The immersing of viewers when they take a closer look at details… do you receive reactions from exhibition visitors?
Yes! When they realize it‘s not a photo they move in closer to the piece and look at its details, creating an intimate connection that might not have happened otherwise, had they simply kept their distance.
How did your visits into such great areas like Greenland and Antarctica change your way to see nature and humanity? Is your personal daily behaviour affected by this?
Absolutely. My love of these regions began in my early childhood, when I traveled with my family throughout several of the world’s most remote landscapes, which became the subject of my mother‘s fine art photography. I developed an appreciation for the beauty and vastness of the ever-changing sky and sea. I loved watching a far-off storm on the western desert plains, the monsoon rains of southern India, and the cold arctic light illuminating Greenland‘s waters. These myriad experiences instilled in me a love of exploring and a need to continue exploring and learning for the rest of my life.
You collaborated also with theatre/ballet in Geneva, dou you have other plans of cooperation outside the art or theatre sector? (education…)
NASA, for one! I’ve flown with their Operation IceBridge team over both poles as they documented the ice thickness and the melt that occurs annually. My work with them inspired my newest series of aerials. The first drawing in the series will be on display at Pulse Art Fair this December in Miami. It’s an aerial I drew of an image from one of their flights over Greenland during the Summer melt season.
How can we bring young people to push their personal boundaries and provoke them to work on their passion which seems to be the key to become unique and responsible human beings?
I believe travel is the key. Seeing the world opens your mind and your heart to perspectives and ways of life you might never have had reason to consider. My whole family traveled together every year for four to six weeks. I have very fond memories of the trips and consider them a vital part of my upbringing and education. I feel very fortunate that I had the opportunity to see so much of the world, and to learn first-hand about cultures so vastly different from our own. To travel is to live and every child should be exposed to the spontaneity and life-changing perspectives that you find when you’re exploring the world.