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Plague as art: Over the centuries, many kinds of stories – Auburn Citizen




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, Bocaccio’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.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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Vancouver Art Gallery, Royal B.C. Museum launch free digital activities for the whole family –



The novel coronavirus has forced museums and galleries to shut their doors, but a couple of British Columbia’s biggest have made it possible to enjoy some of what they have to offer from the comfort of your couch.

The Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) and the Royal B.C. Museum (RBCM) in Victoria, B.C. are now offering live, interactive events online on a regular basis while people are holed up at home to slow the spread of the virus.

Every Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. and Friday at 4:30 p.m., the VAG will stream conversations with guests from local and international arts communities as part of its new digital Art Connects series. The events are free and anyone can join using the web-based video conferencing tool Zoom.

The series kicked off March 31 with two curators giving viewers an in-depth look at the VAG’s newest exhibition The Tin Man Was a Dreamer: Allegories, Poetics and Performances of Powerwhich was meant to open in the gallery the week the building closed.

“It’s a way that we can feature international artists during the situation,” said VAG’s interim chief curator Diana Freundl.

Freundl said she has already seen an enthusiastic response from the public, with more than one hundred people registering for the first event within days after it was promoted.

You can find out more details on how to participate in VAG’s Art Connects events here.

Drawing dinosaurs

The province’s flagship museum is offering activities for kids every Wednesday at 11 a.m. starting April 1. 

First up for the wee ones at RBCM is learning to draw a dinosaur with Victoria Arbour, the museum’s paleontology curator.

And not just any dino, but Buster, one of the first and most complete skeletons of a mountain dinosaur found in B.C. that Arbour helped identify and name.

Victoria Arbour looks over items from the paleontology collection at the Royal B.C. Museum. Arbour is looking forward to answering children’s questions about dinosaurs while teaching how to draw them. (Brandy Yanchyk/Canadian Press)

“I’ve got dinosaurs on my brain a lot of the time,” said Arbour Tuesday in an interview on On The Island.

She said drawing is a big part of her scientific research and she will be encouraging kids to ask her whatever they want to know about dinosaurs while they draw.

All that is needed to join Arbour is a Zoom connection, paper and a pencil.

And grownups, there is something at RBCM for you too.

Every Tuesday and Thursday at noon, the museum is offering online chats with curators and archivists to learn more about what they do, and how they do it from home these days. 

To find out more about participating in RBCM’s online programs visit here.

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Museum challenge has people to recreate famous works of art at home | Mapped – Daily Hive



Channel your inner artist and bring some creativity to your quarantine with a challenge from the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California.

The museum issued a fun competition across their social media channels on Wednesday enlisting fans to recreate their favourite pieces of art with three household objects.

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“Thousands and thousands of re-creations later, we’re in awe of your creative powers and sense of humor,” the museum wrote in a blog post.

According to the post, the challenge was inspired by Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum.

However, they’ve updated and adapted the playful game by using digitized, downloadable works from Getty’s online collection.

The competition has seen thousands of submissions from around the world of people utilizing the materials in their homes to create their own renditions of some of the most iconic pieces of art.

Getty Museum also provides helpful tips for those who may feel creatively stuck in forming their masterpieces. The full list can be found in the blog post.

“The only tools you need for this activity are your imagination and a picture of a work of art you like or find interesting,” the post describes.

Participants are instructed to browse the online collection and select a keyword to search for ideas.

If you have a particular household item that you think would work well, you can also begin by searching for that as your keyword.

Once you have an idea in mind of which piece of art you would like to create, the next step is to find the right materials.

“Any objects are fine: from a blank piece of paper to your most elaborate hat,” the post explains.

“You can stick to 3 and see what you come up with, but you’re welcome to use as many as you like.”

Getty Museum also encourages the incorporation of pets to add a fun flair to your submission.

And with that, you are ready to create!

If you plan on posting to social media once you’re finished, be sure to use the hashtags #betweenartandquarantine and #tussenkunstenquarataine.

Here are some of our favourite submissions:

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ARTS AROUND: Rollin Art Centre looking for artists to exhibit in 2021 – Alberni Valley News





Although the Rollin Art Centre is currently closed to the public due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Community Arts Council is still accepting artist applications for the 2021 calendar year.

Don’t miss this opportunity to have your own art exhibit or group exibit. Application forms are available online at All submissions must be sent by email to

The deadline for applications is April 30, 2020.


Due to Covid-19, the Celtic Chaos fundraising performance has been postponed (not cancelled). A new date will be announced as soon as possible. All tickets will be honoured.


The watercolour workshop with Victoria artist Joanne Thomson and the Fun Flowers painting workshop at North Island College have both been cancelled. Email for a full refund if you were registered to be in either of these workshops.


In response to the growing concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and for the safety of our communities, the Rollin Art Centre gallery will be closed until further notice. This means that we will be postponing all performances and programs until further notice. If you have any questions or concerns about the gallery and programming —or are looking for a way to be creative during this period! —please reach out to

*If you have any questions regarding cancelled/postponed events or programs, please email at the above address.

Melissa Martin is the Arts Administrator for the Community Arts Council, at the Rollin Art Centre and writes for the Alberni Valley News. Call 250-724-3412.

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