As temperatures rise, the sublime is what we stand to lose.
Watching icebergs begin to drip and melt away is both a global and personal sadness for painter Zaria Forman. Her mother was a renowned photographer who was deeply drawn to photographing the Arctic. As young Forman remembers, her mother would stay outside taking photographs and smiling, long after the rest of the family’s toes had gone numb.
When her mother passed away in 2011, just six months before they were supposed to travel to Greenland together, Forman made the trip alone to spread her mother’s ashes there.
She knows it’s hard for people to truly understand the weight of losing a place that they’ve never seen before, so she brings these places to them. Her artistic career is now dedicated to painting beautiful and sublime scenes of landscapes that are in danger of disappearing. She believes artists carry a critical role in social and environmental change, a responsibility she doesn’t take lightly.
“One of the many gifts my mom gave me was to focus on the positive rather than the negative,” Forman said in a recent TED Talk she gave. “My drawings celebrate the beauty of what we all stand to lose.”
Working mostly with soft pastels on canvas, each piece takes around 200 hours to complete. She paints waves crashing on the shore of the Maldives – a South Asian island country that may be underwater within the century – and magnificent, big icebergs in Greenland.
Through these large, lifelike, and visually arresting pieces she hopes viewers will grow true emotional bonds to these landscapes and in turn will make real moves to preserve them.
“I felt the power and the fragility of the landscape. The sheer size of the icebergs is humbling. The ice fields are alive with movement and sound in a way I never expected. I expanded the scale of my compositions to give you the same sense of awe that I experienced,” Forman said in the TED Talk.
“Yet while grandeur of the ice is evident, so too is its vulnerability. From our boat, I could see the ice sweating under the unseasonably warm sun.”
While the swiftly changing landscapes can be paralyzing to see, Forman insists we remain positive—appreciate the beauty we still have and celebrate the achievements we’ve made.
“It is still possible to do something to protect this Earth that sustains us,” she says.