Famous Artworks Targeted by Climate Change Protests

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With growing concern on important issues such as climate change, demonstrators have turned to new ways of seizing media spotlight. On October 14th, two women walked into the National Gallery in London, but not with the intention of enjoying works of art. Instead, they glued themselves to Van Gogh’s 1888 masterpiece Sunflowers and covered it in tomato soup in an act of protest. Motivated by the recognition received by these unique protests, others have also taken initiative to emulate that success for their own causes.

The two women intended to cause backlash from the public. They wanted to compare public outcry for the protection of a famous artwork, to the initiative of protecting our own planet. Protestors asked, “what is worth more, art or life?”. Then, they questioned whether art was worth more than food, more than justice; if we should be more concerned about the protection of a painting, or the protection of our planet and people.

The protests have been organized by Just Stop Oil. They are a coalition of groups cooperating to influence the UK government’s reliance on fossil fuels, and have been related to a variety of protests across the UK. A comparable protest to Just Stop Oil was held in July, in the Royal Academy of Art in London. 

A group of activists targeted another artwork – a copy of Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper. They glued themselves to a frame displaying the painting, and spray painted “No New Oil” underneath it. Reports suggest that the protesters are making a connection between the government and Judas, who is depicted in the painting. Comparing Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, with the government’s disloyalty to their people. 

Just Stop Oil is also thought to be the inspiration behind an Italian organization called Ultima Generazione. On July 22nd, they glued themselves to Botticelli’s Primavera (Spring), which is on display in Florence. They held a banner which said, “Ultima Generazione No Gas No Carbone (Last Generation, No Gas, No Coal)”. The action compared the painting’s depiction of spring with today’s world – “is it possible to see a spring as beautiful as this today?”.

The group stated that they had consulted with art restoration experts to learn how to glue themselves to the painting without damaging it. A statement on the group’s website says, “In the same way that we defend our artistic heritage, we should be dedicated to the care and protection of the planet that we share with the rest of the world.”

Similar to Insulate Britain and Just Stop Oil, Ultima Generazione has received funding from the U.S.-based Climate Emergency Fund (C.E.F). CEF is a philanthropic fund organized to channel funds to direct action groups.

This year, C.E.F. has issued grants of up to $1.7m to activists in 25 countries, including the U.K., the U.S., Australia, Canada, France, Germany and Switzerland. It has particularly focused on the U.K.. $650,000 were given to British groups, including Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion.

Both support and criticism has emerged on social media, and media outlets in response to the unconventional protesting methods. Just Stop Oil has stood behind their actions. Alex De Koning, a spokesperson of the organization, spoke out after the protest involving Sunflowers. He said to the Guardian, “we are not trying to make friends here, we are trying to make change, and unfortunately this is the way that change happens”.

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