Every year since 1918 the flu has remained a persistent and deadly threat, along with countless other diseases. Mosquito-borne illnesses like malaria and West Nile virus kill over a million people every year. In 2015, a strange disease called Zika emerged from Brazil with cases of microcephaly in newborn infants. Other viruses like Ebola continue to emerge in West African communities, often tied with conflicts between traditional burial practices and modern medicine. In reality, people have struggled with a variety of diseases new and old between 1918 and 2020. H1N1 even rebranded as Swine Flu in 2009, although it made less of a lethal impact.
Beginning in the 1980s, HIV and AIDS tore through the LGBTQ+ community and continues to deeply affect people. In the weeks before his death, Keith Haring made an altarpiece to honor those lost to the disease in his signature style; with three folding panels, it references the triptychs made by artists who lived through epidemics of plague and other illnesses. Otto Dix was initially associated with the Futurists, but his personal experience as a soldier in the First World War turned him to Dada. In his polyptych The War from 1932, Dix rendered the horror of that tumultuous era when death reigned triumphant by connecting modern and medieval strife.