writer + artist

Zaria Forman

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It almost felt silly to document Zaria Forman in black and white. Zaria is an incredible artist who works in pastels to document climate change. Her work is stunning. Glistening glaciers, a palette of blues and grays. She depicts a landscape that is deep and vibrant. A papercut felt both monochrome and small in relationship to the work that Zaria does.

But Zaria is such an inspiration, her energy is catching, and her message is important, and I knew that I definitely wanted to include her as a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project. Fortunately she was willing to do a Q&A as well, the chance to dive a little deeper.

The first time I saw one of Zaria’s pieces in person I just stood and stared at it. It truly felt like I was standing in front of a glacier. And that’s exactly the reaction Zaria is going for. I got a chance to meet Zaria in person earlier this year thanks to our mutual friend Jenny Nichols. Jenny traveled to Greenland last year to make a film about Zaria’s work, as well as leading NASA scientists on Operation IceBridge, called “Colors of Change.” I think that art is a powerful tool to convey messages and push for cultural change, something that certainly comes across in the film.

I am grateful to artists like Zaria who are using their craft to shift the cultural conversation.

Anna: What does wisdom mean to you?

Zaria: It means being able to make actions based on the past, present and future. Not without foresight or the knowledge of history. Listening is also a key to wisdom, I love learning from others and being able to share knowledge with people from all over the world.

Is there an influential woman in your life who passed along a piece of wisdom to you? Who and what?

My mother, Rena Bass Forman, was a huge inspiration to me. She dedicated her life to photographing the most remote regions of the earth. The cold and isolated landscape of the Arctic consumed her interest from 2001 until her passing in 2011. She always said that she had been a polar bear in a past life, and watching her spend endless hours in the frigid winds, patiently and happily waiting for the moment when the light was right, gave me no doubt that this was true! She taught me the importance of loving what you do, and carrying out projects full force, no matter what obstacles lie in the way, and no matter how much patience it required.

You wanted to focus on climate change with your art, but it took you a long time to start to depict ice; you stuck to skies and water for a long time and would pair that with a comment about how climate change had melted all the ice. But then finally you took a deep dive and committed to doing ice. Now of course that’s what you’re so well known for, and I keep thinking about how when we step into our fears, that’s where the good stuff happens. So two questions: how did you get yourself to push past that initial fear, and what has that taught you about pushing/challenging yourself as an artist?

Yes, I spent a long time dancing around the subject of ice for fear that I couldn’t create it as I wanted to. I took the plunge with my second trip to Greenland in 2012. I think that taking risks is integral to life and making art. Where would we be if great artists, scientists, and thinkers had not ventured out of the familiar? I’ve found that I learn the most by pushing myself in new directions, and taking on projects that frighten me. The series of NASA drawings I’m working on now is a new direction for me and I’m so excited with how it’s developing, but it’s also scary. Will people still like my work if I’m not drawing picture-perfect icebergs? Will viewers be able to connect with the compositions emotionally (since that’s the main goal for my work!) if what they’re looking at is unfamiliar and not easily understood? I often think back to my trepidation with drawing ice and it helps to drive me forward.

You use your art to convey a message, and I think you do so in a way that resonates with people who might otherwise not be interested in technical explanations of climate change, and in that sense it’s very persuasive. Why do you think that art plays a role in creating change?

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, and tranquility 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.

What wisdom would you share with your younger self?

Follow your passion, and there’s no way you can fail because you’ll be enjoying every day if you’re passionate about what you’re doing!

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Written by Anna Brones

July 19, 2018 at 16:22

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