Creative Spaces: Zaria Forman
Zaria Forman’s current art project began in 2012 when she Kickstarted an expedition to Greenland that was inspired by her late mother. Zaria documented the journey in her pastel drawings to capture the changing landscapes in the hopes of bringing awareness to climate change. We asked Zaria about her most recent trip to the Maldives and her upcoming solo show June 10 in Seattle at Winston Wachter Fine Art.
Tell us about your creative space.
My workspace is in my apartment in Brooklyn. There is a living room and dining room that are basically connected to make one big space, and I have made the dining room my studio. It is ideal in many ways. I have large windows that allow natural light to stream through all day. Since I work on a large-scale, I need to back up and view the work from a distance, and the connected living room allows for that. My biggest challenge is keeping the pastel dust contained, but I do my best with a Shop-Vac and an industrial air purifier. There is always a thick layer of blue dust covering surfaces near my workspace nonetheless! I work every day – sometimes morning till night, other times only an hour or two.
Why did you start drawing?
The inspiration for my drawings 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. In my work I explore moments of transition, turbulence and tranquility in the landscape and their impact on the viewer. In this process I am reminded of how small we are when confronted with the powerful forces of nature. The act of drawing can be a meditation for me, and my hope is that the viewer can share this experience of tranquil escape when engaging with the work.
Tell us about The Maldives project you’re working on.
It really began with my second trip to Greenland, so I’ll start there. In August 2012, I led an Arctic expedition up the NW 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. The first, in 1869, was led by the American painter William Bradford. 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. I began a series of drawings inspired by this trip. Documenting climate change, the work addresses the concept of saying goodbye on scales both global and personal. In Greenland, I scattered my mother’s ashes amidst the melting ice.
Continuing the story of polar melt, which is the main cause of rising seas, I followed the melted water from the Arctic to the equator. I spent September 2013 in the Maldives, the lowest and flattest country in the world, collecting material and inspiration to create a body of work celebrating and representing a nation that could be entirely underwater within this century. Traveling on the islands with two artist collaborators Lisa Lebofsky and Drew Denny, we shared the concept of our project with children on the islands, inviting them to document their homeland as it transforms throughout their lives. It was incredibly fulfilling to witness the children using their creativity to process inwardly, the ecological changes surrounding them.
Why do you think art is capable of making people care about issues like climate change?
Art can facilitate a deeper understanding of any crisis, helping us find meaning and optimism in shifting landscapes. I intend to celebrate the beauty in this. Many effects of climate change have already been, and will continue to be devastating. My drawings invite viewers to share this urgency in a hopeful and significant way. I don’t want to depress people but rather I hope to connect them to these events on an emotional level, deeper than scientific facts and statistics can penetrate.
Is it important to be alone to create your artwork?
Usually, yes. I have a couple of friends that come to stay with me for a few days at a time occasionally, and it can be very nice to have them working in my living room while I draw. It is helpful if someone else is being productive in my space, to inspire me to do the same. But most often I spend my working hours alone and that keeps me focused too.
If you were to win the lottery, do you think that would hurt or help your artwork?
I don’t think winning the lottery would help or hurt my artwork. I am not creating art to get rich, so if I suddenly had heaps of money I would not stop creating art. I would certainly use the money to continue my travels to the poles and low lying nations, so I suppose it would help my artwork if it had any effect at all.
Who or what has been the soundtrack to your spring so far?
Washed Out’s album entitled Paracosm.
What’s next for you?
I have a solo show opening June 10 in Seattle, at Winston Wachter Fine Art. It will feature the Greenland and Maldives work, and draw the connection to the melting ice, rising seas and drowning island nations. I have also been forming a collective with two other artists that came to Greenland and the Maldives with me, Lisa Lebofsky and Drew Denny. Our project, titled Ice to Islands, continues to evolve and take shape through drawings, paintings, film, performance and education. Future exhibition plans involve a group showing of our work, as well as other artists’ work pertaining to the subject of climate change, specifically ice melt and sea level rise. Along with exhibits there will be educational and performance based events, including panel discussions with climate change scientists, activists, and artists. I very much want to visit Antarctica next to compare the poles and draw the southern ice.
Photography by Francois Lebeau