Interview: Zaria Forman on Art and Environmentalism

“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”

Words by Leah Abraham
An Article published in The Earth Issue 002: IMPACT

There is something starkly mythical encased in the clandestine landscapes of the Arctic. For many of us, it’s a barren territory of snow; conceivable, though farthest away from our reach. Many of us could go through our entire lives not having an inkling of what’s out there in the vast white area at the bottom of the world map. But for some, remote landscapes are a revered source of inspiration.

Brooklyn-based artist and educator, Zaria Forman may be known to some as the iceberg impressionist. Capturing the eyes and hearts of many with alluring studies of glaciers and the frosty landscapes of Greenland and the Arctic. Forman isn’t simply a fine artist, but a devoted documentarian of ice: ”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 statistics may not.”

Finding ways to address the impact of climate change on our environment is a topic that has as many layers, as the sheets of ice themselves. Yet there is a remarkable traction to Forman’s drawings that call to our immediate attention. As a vehement form of activism, Forman’s drawings function as a visual artefacts that transport viewer’s right to the core of the plight of melting ice caps: ”If people can experience the sublimity of these landscapes, perhaps they will be inspired to protect and preserve them.”

Using merely paper, soft pastels and charcoal, her agile hands, and exceptional memory, Forman is able to conjure up life-like drawings of distant icebergs, as if she were a sculptor – smudging and blending pastel pigment with her steady unflinching precision. Depicting their marvelous grandeur, rather than their melting decline, is what she graciously considers her artistic duty, and life’s mission: ”Drawing is my tool for progressive change. My art works in tandem with other tools, like NASA’s scientific data or your publication, in order to reach a larger audience. Together we send a unified message.”

For Forman, her drawings are not limited to exhibition walls in gallery spaces; her rich and dazzling compositions make for an equally wondrous viewing in digital formats, having garnered a global wealth of fans and followers on platforms such as Instagram and Vimeo. She has been lucky enough to join NASA on several expeditions to Greenland and Antarctica, capturing magnificent ice landscapes through multiple photographs to refer back to when drawing in the studio. In 2015 Forman completed a 4 week residency aboard the National Geographic explorer, which enabled her to complete a photo series and video installation for her recent solo exhibition, Antartica.