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Plague as art: Over the centuries, many kinds of stories – ABC News



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 honor 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.


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Sarnia area artist shares art kits to help youth, children, parents during pandemic – Anishinabek News



Lambton County artist Suellen Evoy-Oozeer delivers an art kit to a family in Aamjiwnaang First Nation to help young artists during the COVID 19 pandemic.

By Colin Graf

AAMJIWNAANG FIRST NATION— An artist from the Sarnia area is sharing art kits to help youth, children, and parents remaining indoors during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.  After her series of workshops on intuitive spirit painting were cancelled in locations nearby such as Chippewas of Kettle & Stony Point (KSP) First Nation, Suellen Evoy-Oozeer decided to reach out to her students and distribute the art kits she had been storing for those events.

“I want to give them something to do and some way to connect with each other,” she said, so Evoy-Oozeer decided to offer to drop off the kits where they were wanted and to open up a Facebook page, “Me, You, & Us Youth”.

KSP youth were supposed to exhibit their art in the town of Port Franks, on Lake Huron, in May, but that exhibit has been moved to September. She hopes Aamjiwnaang youth may still be able to exhibit their work during the annual First Nations art show at the Lawrence House gallery in Sarnia in June if circumstances allow.

Evoy-Oozeer has now offered the 30 kits in her garage to anyone who wants them from the two First Nations, though she may not be able to deliver to KSP because of restrictions placed on visiting the community.

She is observing protocols for sanitation and distancing in the delivery of the kits. The art supplies have been in her garage for over a month, so she feels there is no chance of infection. She wears gloves for the deliveries and maintains no contact with the people receiving the kits.

“I will drop them off on their doorstep, go back to my car and text them,” the artist says.

The kits include paints, brushes, a large canvas, a 9 x 12 sketch pad and some drawing tools, either pencils or a fine-tipped pen.

“It’s not a lot but it’s enough to keep them busy for a bit,” she says.

She’s also including a copy of the book from the 2019 exhibition she helped create in the Kettle Point area called, Me, You, and Us, which includes ideas for creating what Evoy-Oozeer calls “spirit portraits” showing different aspects of the artists’ inner lives. So far, she has delivered kits to 10 different families.

Samantha Jacobs of Aamjiwnaang got one of those kits and finds creating art is helping her stay focussed, pass the time and keeps her mind busy during isolation. She had completed two out of three sessions Evoy-Oozeer was conducting at the community centre prior to the abrupt closure. Jacobs had hoped to complete a papier-mâché artwork that would resemble herself, but would open up to reveal aspects of herself.  She had the newspaper and the glue ready but was unable to go ahead. Now she is using the paints and chalk pastels in the kit a couple of hours every night. Her favourite so far is one with a younger and an older turtle swimming. Jacobs is the young turtle while the older turtle represents her uncle Errnol Gray, or “Uncle Turtle” as she called him before he passed in 2018. Gray was an Aamjiwnaang councillor for 42 years, and Jacobs remembers him fondly.

Evoy-Oozeer’s original Me, You, and Us project featured 27 spirit portraits she painted of KSP members.  The exhibition was first shown at a London, Ont. gallery, followed by a two-week stay at the Lambton Heritage Museum, between KSP and the town of Grand Bend, with further stops in Windsor and the Ottawa area.

The portraits were part of a wider effort to connect the First Nations people with the settler community in Lambton County, along the south shore of Lake Huron. Evoy-Oozeer and her friend Susan Angela Bressette held workshops for people from both communities to learn intuitive painting techniques and get to know each other.

The workshops last year were a catalyst for understanding and change in the relationship between the First Nation and surrounding community, Bressette told Anishinabek News at the time.

“If you could see the healing that came from our little art class. There’s something that came from our classes that one friend said I should just call magic,” she recalled. “We don’t have an explanation for what happened there, but a lot of people found the freedom to talk about things in their lives like residential schools.”

Art created by the workshop participants also made up part of the 2019 exhibit.

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Bringing art from the inside outside – GuelphToday



Being under quarantine has given us all a small taste of what incarceration feels like and social media is flooded with posts from people using art to share their experiences and perspectives about being in isolation.

But Garry Glowacki’s art collection provides a glimpse from the inside most of us will never see.

“I have talked to a couple different prisoners and described this as a different kind of segregation,” said Glowacki.

When GuelphToday first met Glowacki last November when he was preparing for an art exhibit at HOPE House featuring works by prisoners called Art Inside Out: From the Hearts and Souls of Men and Women Imprisoned.

The exhibition showcased works he has collected over more than 25 years as a restorative justice advocate and executive director of the Bridge Prison Ministry.

Glowacki has been watching the public’s response to the pandemic and selected a few pieces from his collection to display in front of his home on Metcalfe Street.

“I was getting discouraged watching people walk by with their hands in their pockets and their heads down some, not even saying hello,” he said. “I thought, you know what? I don’t want that fear to continue so I thought I would try to lighten up their walk. Apparently, it has worked. A lot of people have stopped by and taken pictures.”

Glowacki greets curious pedestrians from a safe distance, stepping back if they want to get a closer look at the works.

“It is prison art so, it is kind of out there,” he said pointing to a piece by Kingston Penitentiary inmate Brian Martland that shows a section of a locked prison cell door. “That is his view from his maximum-security jail cell where he spends 23 and a half hours a day, everyday. He painted it on a bed sheet because that’s all he had. He had some paints, but he couldn’t get anything beyond that.”

Among the more controversial pieces in his collection are by artist Peter Collins, who was serving a life sentence for killing Nepean Police Const. David Utman during a bank-robbery in 1983.

“Peter Collins died in prison in Millhaven in the 32nd year of a life sentence,” said Glowacki. “He was 17 when he killed a cop. He was a prison advocate, but they wouldn’t even let him out to go to hospice. He died alone in prison.”

The therapeutic value of creating art, especially under extreme conditions, is well documented and Glowacki spent decades promoting prison art programs and their rehabilitative benefits.

“My ministry was about reintegrating men back into the community,” he said. “That’s what I did and we ended up being very successful. It got national attention. It got lots of people jobs. Many, many people that a lot of people had given up on are doing okay.”

Glowacki retired in 2018 but he continues to advocate for prisoners and celebrate the redemptive qualities of artistic expression.

“Art Inside Out is the group I am trying to get together promoting this prison art,” he said. “I retired and went back to University of Guelph to study criminology so, I am hoping they get a little more tuned in to this too because it is an effective presentation.”

He believes that showing the art influences public perception in a positive way and said that people are often surprised to see how senstive and talented prison artists can be.

“I am hoping it is provocative,” he said. “I am hoping it provokes people to think. They have talent. They have feelings. They do.”

He is interested in hearing people’s opinions about the work and for a while he left a pen and a pad of paper for people to leave their remarks. He stopped that after a woman raised concerns about the pen and paper getting contaminated by someone carrying the virus.

He said he rarely gets negative responses from people when he exhibits the collection.

“What are you going to do,” he asked? “Are you going to tell me that you don’t like them? That’s fair or you can tell me you’re afraid of them. That’s fair too but they are still our brothers and sisters and you know what? They are getting out.”

For the time being, however, he has to limit any face-to-face discussions and keeps his distance when people pause to look at the exhibit in his yard.

“I don’t come out here too much,” he said. “Once in a while I will come out and say hi, thanks for coming.”

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Vancouver Island Arts Councils get big grant for investment in digital skills – Ladysmith Chronicle



The Ladysmith Art Council, along with the Comox Valley Arts Council, Cowichan Valley Arts Council, Saltspring Island Arts, and Hornby Island Art Council, received a $212,000 grant for the development of a digital innovation group for Vancouver Island artists.

“We’re doing a baseline survey of what art councils are doing at the moment, and that will lead us to doing a research piece of what we can do better with technology, how technology will help us, and what the future of art councils will look like,” LAC member, Ora Steyn said.

Steyn said that art councils operate for the most part on small budgets and are run primarily by volunteers. The implementation of technology to be shared among all Vancouver Island art councils could have significant long term benefits for their operation models.

“How do we promote ourselves? How do we market ourselves? How do we deliver classes? Is there a way of doing it online, and what is the best way?” Steyn said. “Once we know what we need to proceed we will implement the solutions we find and do the training.”

In the summer 2019, the LAC held an online webcast featuring Terry O’Reilly, host of Under the Influence on CBC to learn more about how to market Vancouver Island’s artists. That event was funded by the Canada Council for Arts Digital Strategy Fund, and set the idea of the Digital innovation group in motion. Over 300 artists joined the live webcast.

The guiding vision is to establish Vancouver Island as an arts powerhouse because of the large amount of artists who live on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.

“People here have the passion for what they’re doing. One Canada Council saw there was a real need, and people who wanted to address the need, we were successful with our grant,” Steyn said.

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