The Stream

The rise of dystopian art

Reflection of a bleak future or current reality?

A woman rises from the rocky coast covered in tar. One of her hands resembles a tentacle, the other clutches the carcass of white bird. A sinking ship is seen in the background. The image above may conjure up an apocalyptic world, but Dakar-based photographer Fabrice Monteiro says it’s reality. His series “The Prophecy” shines a light on the environmental degradation in West Africa. Monteiro believes we currently live in a dystopia and his art is a reflection of that.

Dystopia is the antithesis of Utopia, the name of an ideal country first imagined by social philosopher and author Sir Thomas More in 1516. Dystopia reflects a place where people lead fearful and dehumanised lives. A recent resurgence in dystopian art has some wondering if art is just imitating life.

Following US President Donald Trump’s inauguration, George Orwell’s “1984” jumped to number one on Amazon, the online store’s computer-generated list of best-selling books. Ron Charles, the fiction editor for The Washington Post, says dystopian novels like “1984” appeal to readers because they “brings to light the anxieties we have about our world, our government and our society”. He says readers are just “after an explanation” and for “someone that can make sense of what seems ridiculous”. It’s that idea of making sense out of the ridiculous that has British television fans going crazy over “Black Mirror”. The science fiction drama portrays the dark side of modern technology. The show’s creators use satire to discuss how humans interact with technology and encourage the audience to scrutinise its capabilities.

But dystopian art is not without political controversy. For many liberals, the increased sale of “1984” signals a sign of the times, but conservatives accuse the left of co-opting the novel as “a dramatic warning of the dangers of the Trump administration”. They say DO read it, but look at it more as a warning against socialism.

Fabrice Monteiro and Ron Charles will be joined by novelists Marie Lu and Nnedi Okorafor to discuss their work and the importance of the dystopian art form.

In this episode of The Stream, we speak with:

Ron Charles @RonCharles
Editor, Washington Post’s Book World

Nnedi Okorafor @Nnedi
Author, “Who Fears Death” series

Marie Lu @Marie_Lu
Author, “Legend” and “The Young Elites” series

Fabrice Monteiro 

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