Last week two Gen Z protesters threw tomato soup at Vincent van Gogh Sunflowers painting at the National Gallery in London and glued themselves to the wall on which it hung.
The two women, aged 20 and 21, members of the activist group Just Stop Oil, have since been charged with criminal damage. Their goal was to get people talking about environmental and climate issues. The group as a whole called on the UK government to suspend future licenses for fossil fuel exploration, development and production.
Just Stop The Oil/Handout via REUTERS
“We are doing these actions to get media attention because we need to get people talking about it now,” one of the protesters, Phoebe Plummer, said in a video. “And we know that civil resistance works. History has shown us that it works.
“Is art worth more than life? More than food? More than justice? The group tweeted next to a photo of the two protesters. “The cost of living crisis and the climate crisis are fueled by oil and gas.”
Plummer said she recognizes it seemed ridiculous to cover a famous painting with soup and pointed out that she never would have done it if the painting hadn’t been encased in glass. The oil painting was not damaged by the soup spray, but its frame was.
The National Gallery has published a statement after the protest, confirming that the “painting is unscathed”, despite “minimal damage to the frame”. The museum did not address the politics behind the protest.
“We don’t ask the question ‘Should everyone throw soup on paintings? “, Plummer said. “What we do is engage in conversation so we can ask the questions that matter.”
For her, that means asking why the recently appointed British Prime Minister, Liz Truss, is approving more than 100 new fossil fuel licenses. Why are fossil fuels 30 times more subsidized than renewable energies, while offshore wind power is nine times cheaper? And why, when winter comes, will people be forced to choose between “heating and eating”?
Countries around the world are facing growing economic problems, but the UK has been particularly hard hit. Its central bank is raising interest rates aggressively to curb high inflation, and Truss’s economic plan recently sent stocks tumbling and pushing the pound to a record high.
The British Conservatives, currently in power, have long been in favor of the production of fossil fuels. And with the energy crisis worsening after Russia cut off its natural gas supply to Europe, sparking winter fears, Britain’s Tories have grown even friendlier to Big Energy.
The conversation about climate change needs to happen now, said Plummer, because there is no time to lose – referring to Sir David King, a British chemist who heads the Climate Crisis Advocacy group, who said: “What we do in the next three to four years will determine the future of humanity.
And Plummer and his fellow activist throwing soup on a painting did just that – people are talking about it. Videos of the two women have gone viral on social media, with one video having over 11 million views. It even sparked debate on Twitter, with some commenters applauding them and others criticizing what they did on the board.
“I find it hard to understand why destroying a painting of sunflowers by van Gogh, a poor man who was marginalized in his local community due to his mental illness, is the right target to make a statement about the horror of the oil industry,” a Twitter user wrote, accumulating more than 100,000 likes.
Others who praised the protesters, meanwhile, suggested the backlash indicates how some people view the ongoing issues.
“Say what you will about the Soup Van Gogh action, I can’t think of a better way to reveal people’s priorities and whether they think climate breakdown and mass extinction is truly a emergency,” said Peter Kalmus, a NASA climatologist. tweeted. “Like an x-ray in people’s minds.”
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