Climate protesters hit Van Gogh’s sunflowers with soup. Were they right?

ISLANDn Friday morning, Vincent Van Gogh‘s masterpiece Sunflowers took a square hit from the contents of a few cans of tomato soup at the National Gallery in London.

That was the latest protest from Just stop oil, a climate activism coalition, during two weeks of civil resistance across London. the disturbances, which also saw the group spray paint at New Scotland Yardis in response to Britain government‘s failure to tackle the cost of living crisis and the climate crisis, the group said.

They have demanded a halt to the new oil and gas licenses the UK government has recently put on the line – even though climate scientists warn that such licenses will contribute to even more emissions that drive up global temperatures.

Around 11 o’clock, two young women wearing “Just Stop Oil” t-shirts entered the gallery space and sprayed the Heinz soup cans, one of Andy Warhol’s favorite subjects.

“What is worth more, art or life? Is it worth more than food? More than justice? Are you more concerned about the protection of a painting or the protection of our planet and people?” shouted activist Phoebe Plummer, 21, as they glued their hands to the wall.

She added: “The cost of living crisis is part of the cost of the oil crisis. Fuel is unaffordable for millions of cold, hungry families. They can’t even afford to heat a can of soup.”

The protesters were later arrested for criminal damage and aggravated trespass.

The oil painting, valued at $81m (£72.5m), is protected by a glass cover and was undamaged, a spokesman for the National Gallery said The independent. Just Stop Oil also said it was aware the artwork, completed in 1888, was protected by glass.

About six hours after the soup was thrown, the painting had been cleaned and was back on the gallery wall, the BBC reported.

Over the past 100 years, non-violent direct action, some involving prestigious works of art, has been used in protests to drive social change.

“Recently we have seen an increase in non-violent direct action, including roadblocks and some limited attacks on property. There is a long history of this kind of protest, including attacks on paintings at the National Gallery in London,” says Amy Woodson- Boulton, a professor of history at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles who specializes in the history of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Empire, told The independent, in an email.

“Women in Britain demanding the right to vote, for example, attacked paintings in Manchester and one, Mary Richardson, cut down Diego Velasquez’s painting. Venus’ toilet in 1914 – in both cases to protest the imprisonment of the leader of the Women’s Social and Political Union, Emmeline Pankhurst.”

For Professor Woodson-Boulton, targeting precious art raises questions about how society deals with the existential threat of the climate crisis.

“The question that such attacks ask us is, what is the value of this object? How can we understand our anger at the temporary desecration of objects we possess more than the price in relation to the mass extinction and suffering of climate change?

“That said, actions like this may be controversial as they were at the time. But they are important acts of civil resistance that force the public to consider why we allow the richest governments, often controlled by corporate interests, to ignore the science of , that we need to end our reliance on fossil fuels, we need to protect the most vulnerable, and we need to face the fact that those least responsible for climate change are already feeling the worst effects.”

She added: “To that extent, these protesters are working in an important tradition of nonviolent protest (protest that does not harm other people) and are raising the most important issues facing humanity.”

The image of the orange-red liquid dripping down one of the world’s most iconic images – and the painting of which Van Gogh himself was most proud – induced visceral reactions.

For some, the protest symbolized the growing divide between young people facing an uncertain future on an overheated planet and the apathy of political and financial elites holding the reins in making large-scale shifts across sectors to reduce emissions.

“The only straightforward thing about Van Gogh was probably what he thought painting was for (‘teaching us to see’). So it’s entirely appropriate, I think. Shameful that children are being pushed into this,” the comedian tweeted and author Frankie Boyle.

“If you’re more upset about the left side than the right side, you might want to reconsider your priorities a bit. Just a thought,” wrote Julia K Steinberger, a professor of social ecology and ecological economics at the University of Lausanne. She shared a split screen of the activists throwing soup and a piece of the latest UN climate assessment, which read: “Any further delay in concerted pre-emptive global action on adaptation and mitigation will miss a short and fast-closing opportunity.”

The Van Gogh attack inevitably sparked outrage from the right, which has been constantly simmering over activists’ various attempts to draw attention to the climate crisis over the past year.

But there was also concern on Friday among some climate scientists and activists that targeting a beloved work of art risked undermining the message.

“Regardless of the motive, damaging or destroying shared cultural treasures in the name of saving the planet is a mistake.” tweeted Dr Jonathan Foleya climate and environmental scientist who leads the climate solutions group, Project Drawdown.

“As a scientist working on climate change, this shock action makes me very upset because it is likely to discourage public support for climate action. Harming art to save lives makes no sense. Fossil fuels are the problem and art is part of the solution, “ wrote Francois Gemennean expert on climate change and migration, and a lead author on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The attack was seen by some as a tiresome attempt at shock tactics, after many protests centered around artworks in the past year. Others saw it as missing the point entirely.

“If you’re going to have a climate protest in a museum, I feel it should be about returning stolen art/artifacts to colonized nations and pointing out the connection between climate change and colonialism, not… this…” Mary Annaïse Heglar, an author and podcaster whose work focuses on climate justice, tweeted.

In July, Just Stop Oil protesters clung to a reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci The Last Supper at the Royal Academy, and John Constable’s Hay Wain at the National Gallery. In May, a protester threw a cake Mona Lisa in the Louvre, Paris.

Alex De Koning, a spokesman for Just Stop Oil, said The Guardian on Friday that the group was concerned about alienating people from their cause — but that such actions were necessary to make change happen.

“But it is not X Factor,he told the paper. “We’re not trying to make friends here, we’re trying to make change, and unfortunately that’s the way change happens.”

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