A World in Transition

Zaria Forman’s large-scale pastels seek to capture the visceral beauty of our rapidly changing landscapes.

Bright turquoise melt water cuts through piercingly white snow. Icebergs float calmly on the ocean, their jags and peaks reflected on the glassy surface. Light filters through semi-translucent ice. Looking at Zaria Forman’s work, it’s hard not to be transported to the icy landscapes of Greenland, Argentina, and Norway. It’s also hard not to do a double take, to think, These are photographs, right? Because what Forman can do with soft pastels, her fingers, and a canvas is almost unbelievable.

Forman’s drawings are incredibly realistic and breathtakingly beautiful. And that’s the point for this artist, who tries to capture “moments of transition, turbulence, and tranquility” in the landscape in order to communicate the urgency of the climate crisis. “I choose to convey the beauty as opposed to the devastation,” she says in a 2015 TED Talk. “If you can experience the sublimity of these landscapes, perhaps you will be inspired to preserve and protect them.”

Forman’s subject matter consists largely of melting ice and crashing waves. She wants us to journey with her to the edge of an Arctic glacier that may soon be gone, and then to the coast of the Maldives, a nation that may soon be subsumed by rising seas, so that we may understand how these two places, which feel worlds apart, are actually intimately connected. Or, to put it another way, she wants to take us to places many of us will never visit in person, and help us to truly grasp all that’s at stake as temperatures rise.

“Many of us are intellectually aware that climate change is our greatest global challenge, and yet the problem may feel abstract, the imperiled landscapes remote,” she writes of her series from Antarctica. “I hope my drawings make Antarctica’s fragility visceral to the viewer, emulating the overpowering experience of being beside a glacier.”

See more of Forman’s work at www.zariaforman.com.

Conveying all that beauty, all that fragility, requires great attention to detail. Forman travels to locales on the forefront of climate change — she’s led an expedition to Greenland, joined NASA flights over Arctic Canada, and completed a residency on the National Geographic Explorer in Antarctica. Wherever she is, Forman takes thousands of photographs. When she returns to her studio, she refers to these images, as well as her memory, to compose large-scale drawings with pastel chalk, which she manipulates with her palms and fingertips. A single piece can take upwards of 200 hours to complete.

With this care and attention, she hopes to complement the science by touching the heart. As she says, “I have dedicated my career to illuminating [climate] projections with an accessible medium, one that may move us in a way that statistics may not.”

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We are standing at a pivotal moment in history, one in which education and advocacy around the climate emergency, public health, racial injustice, and economic inequity is imperative. At Earth Island Journal, we have doubled down on our commitment to uplifting stories that often go unheard, to centering the voices of frontline communities, and to always speak truth to power. We are nonprofit publication. We don’t have a paywall because our mission is to inform, educate and inspire action. Which is why we rely on readers like you for support. If you believe in the work we do, please consider making a tax-deductible year-end donation to our Green Journalism Fund.

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