Art History in “The Oblivion Tapes” by Timuri Murari

This little paperback from the 1970s revolves around a reporter uncovering a secret global conspiracy that begins with a terrorist attack on the fictional (possibly based on Brazil) country of São Amerigo.

The art history references center around São Amerigo’s history of enduring outside forces ranging from the terrible to the conventional. Conventional influences (or colonizing influences?) such as local edifices taking ideas from Portuguese architecture. The remaining references create a theme of agony, decay, and death that reflect the pain and destruction caused by outside governments and their enablers. As the reporter witnesses the aftermath of a poor neighborhood destroyed by the attack, he compares the horror to a Hellmouth scene from an illuminated manuscript. The author did not use those exact words, so I had to look up that era he mentioned in a search engine. In another house, the characters notice an old display of food that reminded them of realistic Still Lifes. A description of a literal Nature Mort, a French translation I learned from an art history professor. The book does not name the era or region depicting still lifes of food, but it probably could have come from the Baroque Era. 

Alexander Coosemans, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


As the plot delves into the conspiracy behind the plague, the book examines the art collection of a corrupt government official. That collection included Cubist art and a post World War II Contemporary Era painter. I am unsure if I found the right artist when I looked for his name, for my search engine gave me another artist with a name similar to the one found in the text. This person did make art years before the book was published. Regarding the Cubist reference, the author probably wanted the reader to think of Guernica.  

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