by Julie Krejčí
On Friday, October 14th, two activists from the environmentalist group Just Stop Oil, Phoebe Plummer and Anna Holland, glued themselves to the wall in the National Gallery, London after throwing tomato soup Van Gogh’s notorious painting ‘Sunflowers’. Plummer urged: “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?”
Just Stop Oil activists have been remarkably active over the past few weeks, staging sit-down protests on roads in London earlier this October and gluing themselves to the wall at the Royal Academy in July. Their action intends to bring awareness to the oil crisis in Britain, demanding change from the government to end new licenses and consents for the production of fossil fuels in the UK (juststopoil, 2022). After the decision to ban of Russian oil by December, the U.K. is set to face a massive energy crisis, causing 13% of an average household’s income to go towards energy bills (Hubbard, 2022). Throwing soup at the painting was meant to demonstrate the lack of fuel that leaves families unable to “afford to heat a tin of soup.” It is important to mention that the painting is behind glass and was not harmed, despite the public’s outrage over the blatant disrespect of such important art work. The connection between Van Gogh and the oil crises seems to be missing, as Van Gogh was part of a marginalized community for his mental illness, not an oil conglomerate profiting from fossil fuel production.
On the contrary, Just Stop Oil has been accepting donations in cryptocurrency, which is known for having a devastating impact on the environment. One cannot stop but ask whether the activism of Just Stop Oil is then simply performative, urging the government to stop fossil fuel production while simultaneously operating from an income that is famously known to be harmful to the planet.
In my eyes, I understand the desperation for wanting change, especially when it comes to topics regarding the preservation of our planet and so the actions of Just Stop Oil activists are not unprecedented. However, these actions need to be thought out in order to gain public support, which has not been the case with this organization. Attacking a painting or sitting on busy roads when citizens need to go to work will only result in spite of the organization. Not to mention their encouragement of cryptocurrency donations that make the whole act look like a farce charade.
Just Stop Oil. 2022. https://juststopoil.org/
Hubbard, H. 2022, October, 15. Who is Just Stop Oil, the group that threw soup on Van Gogh’s painting? https://www.npr.org/2022/10/15/1129322429/just-stop-oil-climate-activists-protest-van-gogh