Just over a month ago on Oct.14, two members of the climate activist group Just Stop Oil threw two cans of tomato soup on Vincent van Gogh’s painting “Sunflowers” in the National Gallery in London.
Before the two activists were arrested for their actions, they were seen gluing their hands to the wall below the statue and giving a thought-provoking speech.
“What is worth more, art or life?” said Phoebe Plummer, one of the activists. “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?
“The cost-of-living crisis is part of the cost-of-oil crisis,” said Plummer. “Fuel is unaffordable to millions of cold, hungry families. They can’t even afford to heat a tin of soup.”
While stunts such as these may seem radical and impulsive, their actions were very much thought out and planned, all in the hopes of generating headlines – the painting was not even damaged.
Beforehand, the activists had “checked in advance that the work was glazed, so the soupy splattering would cause no damage and could simply be wiped away,” said Alex Marshall of the New York Times.
While this was probably one of Just Stop Oil’s most visible and memorable acts to help start conversations surrounding climate change, this is not the first time they have pulled a stunt like this. In fact, actions such as these have been going on for months.
Just Stop Oil, a group that “seeks to stop oil and gas extraction in Britain,” said Marshall, has had their glued hands under famous works of art as far back as July.
They have also been seen putting up posters of a desolate landscape over John Constable’s “The Hay Wain,” as well as spray painting ‘No new oil’ beneath Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.”
The whole goal of Just Stop Oil is to bring attention to the very serious issue of climate change. No one can deny that what they are doing is ineffective in getting people to talk about climate issues, especially when the speeches that accompany their actions have powerful messages.
However, the conversations that are generated from their stunts may not always be the kind that the activists are going for.
Oftentimes, people are less likely to listen to another side of an argument when they perceive the other side as being radical, or at least out of the ordinary.
Actions such as Just Stop Oil’s may further polarize people on an already very polarizing topic by associating everyone who believes in climate change as wanting to deface famous works of art.
And while this is not the case, climate change deniers would look at the side that is throwing soup at works of art and probably think that they would not want to associate with people who are willing to do such things.
However, the issue is not so cut and dry. When it comes to climate change, it is easy for governments and organizations to ignore and silence the voice of the people and continue on practicing what they have always done instead of changing their actions for the environment.
While many people may be quick to dismiss such actions as Just Stop Oil’s, there are a lot worse things they could do than throw soup on a painting that can be simply wiped away.
When it comes to issues as serious as climate change, radical actions may be the only way to make people listen. It is a fine line, but it is one we must walk in order to effectively communicate what we want our earth to look like in the future.