NEW YORK — Lauren Beukes, a script and fiction writer, is drawn to narratives that allow her to probe themes of gender and power. For her upcoming novel, “Afterland,” she imagined a plot twist in which a disease wipes out virtually the entire male population.
“I wanted to explore what a world without men would look like and how it wouldn’t necessarily be a better place with everyone making friendship bracelets and growing communal gardens and walking at night,” says Beukes, who began her book years before the current coronavirus pandemic.
Lawrence Wright, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist, says his new novel was inspired by a question the filmmaker Ridley Scott asked him years ago after reading Cormac McCarthy’s dystopian “The Road”: How could social order break down so completely when we’re struck by sudden disaster? His upcoming thriller “The End of October” describes, uncannily, a global pandemic originating in Asia. He had meant his new book as a cautionary tale.
“Our society has grown blind about dealing with natural hazards because we were so worried about terrorism. Hurricane Harvey caused far more damage than a terrorist attack,” says Wright, known for his nonfiction book “The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9-11.”
Plagues have been with us for at least as long as people have been able to record them. But among those who create art, their meaning has changed profoundly according to the time and the teller.
Once regarded as divine punishment, they have served as parables of greed, tyranny and scientific hubris. They have underscored narratives of escapism, vulnerability and save-the-world heroism. They have been treated as catalysts for what we never imagined becoming — and for confirmation of what we were all along.
—For the ancient Greek historian Thucydides, the plague that devastated Athens affirmed his view that prayers were “useless” and his dire belief that laws and codes of honour were easily abandoned.
—Edgar Allan Poe condemned a heartless prince and his foolish belief that he was immune from disease in “The Masque of the Red Death.”
—In Stephen King’s “The Stand,” biowarfare and a careless military are central villains.
—Stephen Soderbergh rejected any political interpretation of his film “Contagion,” saying that the virus in it “was just a virus.” Yet he told The Guardian in 2011 that he did want to “convey the feeling” he sensed worldwide “that the fabric of society really is stretched thin.”
In some eras, little imagination was needed to picture the worst — and hope for the best. Tony Kushner’s epic play “Angels in America” was a defining chronicle of the wreckage of AIDS. The Black Plague of the Middle Ages inspired both terrifying art of ravaged bodies and dancing skeletons and images of Saint Sebastian and Saint Roch intended to console.
“Saint Sebastian had survived being shot with arrows, and Saint Roch was believed to have survived an episode of the plague, so you often see them appearing in art,” says C. Griffith Mann, who curates the Department of Medieval Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
A classic work of literature from the Middle Ages, Boccaccio’s “The Decameron,” reads in some ways as a guide to social distancing and self-isolation. Seven young women and three young men escape from the plague in Florence and live together in a villa, where they entertain each other by telling stories.
“I think Boccaccio anticipated what we would/could do in the time of the plague: We need to escape from our ‘real’ world in which our misery has no explicable cause, no identifiable beginning, and no end in sight,” says Wayne A. Rebhorn, who chairs the English department at the University of Texas at Austin.
“Many of the stories include stories within them — stories used by characters to get out of jams, persuade others to do their bidding, and, at the simplest level, entertain those who read or listen to them. If the plague shows just how desperate and fragile human life can be, stories offer a way to cope with that desperation.”
Plague books can be a way of tracking other changes in society. The 1665 plague in London was the basis for Daniel Defoe’s “A Journal of the Plague Year,” which was published decades later and was noted for its detailed account of the city’s ordeal. Defoe scholar and Auburn University professor Paula Backscheider notes that his book came out at a time when the Renaissance had challenged religious beliefs, and that for the author the London plague was a way of looking beyond religious reasons for human suffering.
“He is grippingly driven to try to decide if the plague is the will of God,” Backscheider says, “or if there are scientific explanations that would explain how it started and spread, how people could protect themselves from it, and how it might be treated humanely and effectively.”
In the 20th century, Albert Camus’ “The Plague” was widely seen as a parable for the Nazi occupation of France and the eventual liberation — and as a statement on the randomness of fate. Katherine Anne Porter’s “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” was inspired by the flu epidemic of 1918-1919 that killed millions at the same time that World War I, which killed millions more, was ending. She published the short novel in 1939, as a new world war began.
“Her illness is grounded in a real influenza pandemic, but because her illness is associated with the war (it ends with the Armistice), it symbolizes the spiritual malaise of the 20th century,” says Dorothy Unrue, a Porter scholar who edited a volume of her work for the Library of America.
Chris Bohjalian’s new novel, “The Red Lotus,” has just been published. The author looks for stories about “heartbreak and dread” and thought of a pandemic — an idea he developed after reading an article about mice carrying viruses resistant to treatment. In his book, rats are the carriers of diseases, although people are the real villains.
“I don’t view the possible pandemic in the novel as a metaphor,” he says. “(But) a pathogen doesn’t attack a human with conscious malice. But humans? We are all too conscious of the carnage we can inflict on one another.”
Follow AP National Writer Hillel Italie on Twitter at @hitalie.
Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
Hillel Italie, The Associated Press
BC community service provider hosts friendly art competition for youth – Surrey Now-Leader
Pacific Community Resources Society (PCRS) is looking for uplifting artwork for a contest they’re hosting this month.
‘Creativity is Contagious’ is a friendly art competition for youth throughout B.C.
The theme of the artwork “must reflect finding the silver lining in difficult times.”
Youth aged 18 and younger can submit their work in four categories: performance art, handmade art, written art and digital art. Kids and teens can enter a maximum of five entries per person, and there’s a prize to be won in each category.
Artwork is to be uploaded to either Facebook, Instagram or YouTube. Include the hashtag #PCRSprevention and tag your PCRS prevention worker.
Winners will be chosen on April 30.
PCRS is a community service provider which offers services for education, employment, housing, substance use, mental health and youth and family support. They have various locations throughout the province.
Victoria art gallery provides Open Space in an online way – Monday Mag
The operators of Open Space have been working to figure out the best way to continue sharing visual art with the community and supporting artists in need in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
While plans are still a work in progress, the gallery states that its key goals and focus continue to be, “to share the resources we have as an established artist-run centre to support artists in a time of need; to foster creative ways of engaging and sustaining community in a time of increased isolation; and to collaborate on exciting contemporary art projects that invite us deeper into relationship with the world around us.”
As it works to define what that might look like, Open Space is reaching out to the community for suggestions on how to make the arts meaningful at this time. It is encouraging the public to send feedback via email to email@example.com.
The sharing of work in a open gallery format may be on hold right now, but one current exhibition by Chantal Gibson entitled A Grammar of Loss – Studies in Erasure continues online, where you can view images of her show up close.
Also, Open Space is launching a new series of land-based livestreams called Online On Land on Instagram, with weekly walks and talks from different sites within Lekwungen and W̱SÁNEĆ territories, where viewers can spend time with and learn from local Indigenous artists, educators and knowledge keepers.
The first livestream happens this Sunday (April 5) at 1 p.m. and features Songhees Nation member and artist Cheryl Bryce. The weekly schedule runs through May 10. Click here and access the stories by clicking on the Open Space logo.
For more information, visit openspace.ca.
Art Gallery of Grande Prairie encouraging creativity at home – My Grande Prairie Now
The Art Gallery of Grande Prairie is giving the community a chance to get creative while self-isolating. A program called “Art at Home” kicked off on April 1st as a resource for interactive family projects and a way to showcase community art.
Executive Director Jeff Erbach says art can spur creativity and challenge people, especially while they are spending more time at home.
“In these times, when a lot of people are sheltered in place, art can still play a provocative and powerful role in people’s lives.”
The gallery has released three collections so far including drawings from Peace Country artist Euphemia McNaught. The program also launched its first at-home Carlstrom Family Green Space project, which encourages artists to create their own collages.
Erbach adds Art at Home will be the focal point of the gallery moving forward as its physical location remains closed to the public.
“Our mandate and our role is to contribute to the quality of life in the community. We are simply transitioning all of our activities so that people can still engage with art and still find creative things to do.”
Erbach says the gallery is looking to support the already creative community the Peace County has to offer.
“That includes some of our local businesses and entrepreneurs. These are really creative people. We’re finding a way with art to nurture that creative spark.”
Through social media, the program will feature updates on one-time projects, ongoing series, and invitations to create on the gallery’s website. A variety of posts will be made throughout the week moving forward to keep new and existing art lovers engaged until the facility opens its door again.
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