Painting the Climate Crisis into Each Precious Detail
WORDS BY NAVYA POTHAMSETTY | OAKLAND | VISUAL ARTS
MAR 02, 2023 | ISSUE 10
Zaria Forman by Jenny Nichols
Disco Bay, Greenland
Zaria Forman by Francois Lebeau
In Antarctica, the air is alive with sound. Penguins whir, ice crackles, and waves lap against barren landscapes while painter Zaria Forman absorbs the endless detail of a glacier’s icy wall. On-site research is crucial for Forman, and she has dedicated her practice to observing - and capturing - the Arctic, a region of our planet crucial for regulating our climate and under the fatal threat of collapse. Whether it has been aboard the National Geographic Explorer or traveling with NASA’s scientific expeditions, Forman has collected imagery of one of the most rapidly changing continents on earth for her creative practice and climate change advocacy.
The environmental issues plaguing our poles feel disconnected from our daily lives, and Forman brings them to the front and center of our minds. The scale of her drawings mirrors the magnitude of our rapidly changing ecosystem and the disaster it presents, filling our vision and making it impossible to look away in ignorance. The still, dark oceans keeping the glaciers and icebergs afloat are a threat to all life as they continually rise, and the icy planes she depicts glow with a vibrancy that feels alluring and dangerous. The delicacy of pastels – her medium of choice – reflects the fragile nature of her chosen landscapes, as Forman highlights moments of tranquility in the precarious natural world.
Each of Forman’s massive pastel drawings stay true to the landscape of the glaciers she depicts, while understanding that by the time the drawing is complete, the subject may be completely different in reality. A jagged block of ice could flip, revealing the slippery surface below. Icebergs, melting on the open ocean or in iceberg graveyards, such as the one in Whale Bay, Antarctica, slowly return to the water, disappearing into the waves. Forman captures each of her subjects with an astounding amount of attention to detail and labours over the accuracy of each colour and line to ensure a perfect effigy. Just as a portrait of a person preserves their likeness for the next generations, these depictions of glaciers capture their ephemeral beauty before they are lost forever.
While most of us may never be able to visit the Arctic to absorb its grandeur and elegance, Forman has made it her life’s mission to help her viewers feel connected to these remote locations. Her drawings urge us to take action now, making a distant crisis seem suddenly up close and personal as we are drawn into these vulnerable regions with curiosity and awe. Each work arises from an accumulation of marks in the same way glaciers accumulate over millions of years, transforming a blank page into a window that looks into the environments we are on the edge of losing. Unfortunately, we are out of time to rebuild these precious ecosystems, and the work of Zaria Forman is an important reminder of the urgency of the climate crisis we are facing.