Drawings that show the beauty and fragility of Earth | Zaria Forman


I consider it my life’s mission to convey the urgency
of climate change through my work. I’ve traveled north to the Arctic
to the capture the unfolding story of polar melt, and south to the Equator to document
the subsequent rising seas. Most recently, I visited
the icy coast of Greenland and the low-lying islands of the Maldives, connecting two seemingly disparate
but equally endangered parts of our planet. My drawings explore moments
of transition, turbulence and tranquility in the landscape, allowing viewers to emotionally connect with a place you might never
have the chance to visit. I choose to convey the beauty
as opposed to the devastation. If you can experience the sublimity
of these landscapes, perhaps you’ll be inspired
to protect and preserve them. Behavioral psychology tells us
that we take action and make decisions based
on our emotions above all else. And studies have shown
that art impacts our emotions more effectively than a scary news report. Experts predict ice-free Arctic summers as early as 2020. And sea levels are likely to rise
between two and ten feet by century’s end. I have dedicated my career
to illuminating these projections with an accessible medium, one that moves us in a way
that statistics may not. My process begins
with traveling to the places at the forefront of climate change. On-site, I take thousands of photographs. Back in the studio, I work from both my memory
of the experience and the photographs to create very large-scale compositions, sometimes over 10 feet wide. I draw with soft pastel, which is dry
like charcoal, but colors. I consider my work drawings
but others call them painting. I cringe, though, when I’m referred to
as a “finger painter.” (Laughter) But I don’t use any tools and I have always used
my fingers and palms to manipulate the pigment on the paper. Drawing is a form of meditation for me. It quiets my mind. I don’t perceive what I’m drawing as ice or water. Instead, the image is stripped down to its most basic form of color and shape. Once the piece is complete, I can finally experience
the composition as a whole, as an iceberg floating
through glassy water, or a wave cresting with foam. On average, a piece this size
takes me about, as you can see, 10 seconds. (Laughter) (Applause) Really, more like 200 hours,
250 hours for something that size. But I’ve been drawing ever since
I could hold a crayon, really. My mom was an artist, and growing up, we always had art supplies
all over the house. My mother’s love of photography propelled her to the most
remote regions of the earth, and my family and I were fortunate enough to join and support her
on these adventures. We rode camels in Northern Africa and mushed on dog sleds
near the North Pole. In August of 2012,
I led my first expedition, taking a group of artists and scholars
up the northwest coast of Greenland. My mother was originally
supposed to lead this trip. She and I were in the early
stages of planning, as we had intended to go together, when she fell victim to a brain tumor. The cancer quickly took over
her body and mind, and she passed away six months later. During the months of her illness, though, her dedication to the expedition
never wavered, and I made a promise to carry out her final journey. My mother’s passion for the Arctic echoed through my experience in Greenland, and 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 that I never expected. I expanded the scale of my compositions to give you that same sense of awe
that I experienced. Yet, while the 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. We had a chance to visit
many of the Inuit communities in Greenland that now face huge challenges. The locals spoke to me
of vast areas of sea ice that are no longer
freezing over as they once did. And without ice, their hunting
and harvesting grounds are severely diminished, threatening their way
of life and survival. The melting glaciers in Greenland are one of the largest
contributing factors to rising sea levels, which have already begun to drown some of our world’s lowest-lying islands. One year after my trip to Greenland,
I visited the Maldives, the lowest and flattest country
in the entire world. While I was there, I collected
images and inspiration for a new body of work: drawings of waves lapping
on the coast of a nation that could be entirely underwater
within this century. Devastating events happen every day on scales both global and personal. When I was in Greenland, I scattered my mother’s ashes
amidst the melting ice. Now she remains a part
of the landscape she loved so much, even as it, too, passes
and takes on new form. Among the many gifts my mother gave me was the ability to focus on the positive, rather than the negative. My drawings celebrate the beauty
of what we all stand to lose. I hope they can serve as records
of sublime landscapes in flux, documenting the transition
and inspiring our global community to take action for the future. Thank you. (Applause)


15 Responses

  1. Mr. Wells

    April 26, 2019 2:39 am

    I don't see an issue with the earth cleansing itself with ocean water. civilizations are not important. If the earth can eliminate some of the human population to restore itself that's good. Maybe the reefs will repair themselves in time and the oceans will run the earth once more. We all came from water. be like water. don't panic. Let the earth do what it has always done. adapt and conquer. don't panic. Nothing matters. Enjoy the universe for what it is and nothing more.

  2. Gary G

    May 14, 2019 2:16 pm

    We know that climate change is happening. Unfortunately, history proves we can do nothing about it.

  3. spikey 27

    June 29, 2019 1:03 pm

    Thank you for your beautiful, yet humbling presentation. If we don't respect the Earth, it will likely return the favor.

  4. Steven Stritenberger

    July 8, 2019 5:59 am

    As a fellow artist I'm very impressed by her work. As a human being that thinks and researches all information available the climate change religion is something I do not adhere too, at least in the theory that humans are the only cause in any changing climate on this earth and that the "global community" can change it by forcing everyone to adhere to their unreachable goals. The climate change religion is about power and control, not saving the planet as the planet is fine. You do realize that next year is 2020 and there will still be plenty of ice in the Arctic right? https://realclimatescience.com/2019/01/eleven-years-of-arctic-sea-ice-thickening/

  5. SnowyPug

    July 9, 2019 11:14 pm

    I love the art. Beautiful and meaningful; it beams with purpose. Thank you for trying to say our Earth. Have a great day.

  6. Jeremy Johnson

    July 10, 2019 3:54 am

    Flying from country to country in carbon fueled plane seems to contradict her so called "saving of the climate"

  7. Goku

    July 10, 2019 8:05 pm

    Beautiful presentation, beautiful view of the world, beautiful message. Lovely and inspiring, thank you Zaria.

  8. Grappler Baki

    July 11, 2019 7:38 pm


  9. Kamal bagirov

    September 10, 2019 10:19 am

    you are not right. let glaziers melt. it might bring some extra water to Earth that we could use. Humanity need look for alternative where he will be living. there are vast territories in Asia where mankind can migrate. Mankind should be tolerant to other races. should give them shelter.

  10. Michelle Simtoco

    October 12, 2019 11:20 pm

    I love how she intended her art to show the majesty and the vulnerability of our home, the earth….to speak to our hearts so we can be inspired to take care of it. 💕😊


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