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Zaria Forman yields pastels like few others. Her ability to capture the majestic detail of remote landscapes, such as Arctic icebergs, is staggering, but her passion for creating conversation around those icebergs’ vulnerability is just as impressive. To learn more about Zaria’s work toward combating climate change, we asked the NYC-based artist a few questions.

How did your upbringing foster your artistic lifestyle?

I grew up in Piermont, New York, about 30 minutes north of NYC, and I’ve been drawing ever since I could hold a crayon. From sixth grade through high school, I went to Green Meadow Waldorf — an extremely small school with an alternative approach to education, suffused with art. I also continued my education by majoring in studio art at Skidmore College soon after.

As for my family’s influence, my mother 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 taught me the importance of loving what you do and carrying out projects with full force, no matter what obstacles lie in the way. She created her own series of journeys entitled Chasing the Light, and the Greenlandic expedition I ended up leading would have been the third in a trilogy she had planned.

What are the pros and cons of being an artist in New York City?

I moved to Brooklyn after graduating college, and I’ve lived here ever since. NYC is one of the art capitals of the world, so it seemed like the perfect place to begin my career as an artist. Though I’m living and working in a concrete jungle, I try to soak up as much nature as I can. I ride my bike to and from my studio every day, which is such a blessing during the busiest months, when I’m working nonstop and don’t have time to relax and go for a hike upstate. I also live right next to Prospect Park, a place I try to spend as much time at as possible.  Being around nature feeds my creative process and helps me focus. It’s what inspires my drawings, so it’s important for me to consistently experience the outdoors in some capacity.

Why do you choose to work with pastels?

I have always preferred soft pastels over the myriad of materials I have experimented with. The process of drawing with pastels is simple and straightforward: cut the paper, make the marks. The material demands a minimalistic approach, as there isn’t much room for error or re-working since the paper’s tooth can hold only a few thin layers of pigment. I rarely use an eraser and prefer to work with my mistakes. In this process lies a simplicity that I love; it has taught me a great deal about letting go. I become easily lost in tiny details, and if the pastel and paper did not provide limitations, I fear I would never know when to stop!

You’ve been able to travel to some pretty remote places throughout the years. How do these locations inspire you?

I found the inspiration for my drawings in my early childhood, when I traveled with my family to several of the world’s most remote landscapes, which became the subject of my mother’s fine art photography. Through these experiences, I developed an appreciation for the beauty and vastness of the ever-changing sea and sky. I loved watching far-off storms on the western desert plains, the monsoon rains of southern India, and the cold Arctic lights illuminating Greenland’s waters.

When did you start making climate change the main focus of your work?

The severity of the climate crisis really hit me when I visited Greenland for the first time in 2007. I felt both the power and the fragility of the landscape. The sheer size, majesty, and beauty of the icebergs is humbling. The ice fjords are alive with movement and thunderous cracking — reminders of their destructive capabilities. Yet while their threatening potential is evident, so is their vulnerability.

During my visit, the local Inuits spoke of vast ice fjords that are not freezing as they once did, challenging the sustainability of the local hunting communities dotting the coastlines. The fjords are the communities’ hunting grounds for seal, walrus, and other animals that provide sustenance, warmth, and other facets of life necessary for Arctic survival. Insufficient ice severely limits their hunting grounds. Greenland has no railways, no inland waterways, and virtually no roads between towns. Their major method of transportation is boat around the coast in summer and dog-sled in winter (which, 10 years ago, made up most of the year). Without frozen fjords, their dogs and sleds are rendered useless, and many people cannot afford to travel very far on the water. Learning about all of this instilled in me a need to play a part in addressing the crisis. Since then, I have followed the meltwater from the Arctic to the equator in an attempt to draw the connection between two seemingly disparate landscapes that are undoubtedly linked by the climate crisis.

What do you hope your art inspires in those who view it?

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 pure statistics may not. I hope doing so can facilitate a deeper understanding of the climate crisis, helping us find meaning and optimism in shifting landscapes. One of the many gifts my mother gave me was the ability to focus on the positive, rather than dwell on the negative. I hope my drawings serve as records of landscapes in flux, documenting the transition and inspiring our global community to take action for the future.

Psychology 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.

To learn more about Zaria’s work both as an artist and activist, visit her website and follow her on Instagram.

All photos were contributed by Francois Lebeau and Jenny Nichols.

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Brad Donaldson is a writer and editor proudly based out of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Although his roots are in Canada, his desire to see more of the world frequently takes him away from home. His work, both as an editor and writer, has appeared in local newspapers and publications.