By Madison Cheung
Criticism in the art world is nothing new; paintings that have been vandalized, stolen, and even shunned over the course of history can be proof of that. The only difference now is that famous works of art are not being defaced by angry art connoisseurs, but rather eco activists.
Museums are the picture of calm, whereas protests are anything but. If you've ever been to an art museum, you’ll find it hard to imagine a food fight breaking out in one. However, this was the case for London’s National Gallery on October 14th, when two activists from the environmental activist group, Just Stop Oil, threw tomato soup at Van Gogh’s priceless Sunflowers in protest of oil production. They then proceeded to glue themselves to the wall, and asked the crowd whether art was worth more than life. The protesters were promptly arrested by museum security afterwards.
Since this display, art museums across Europe have become a prime target for climate protests, sparking debate all over the media. Thankfully, there was only minor damage to the frame of Sunflowers, as the painting remained unharmed under the protection of its glass screen, which was a factor Just Stop Oil supposedly already knew about.
Protesters of Just Stop Oil continue to go great lengths to spread their message by blocking central London’s roads. One protester went so far as to glue their head onto Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring painting at the Mauritshuis Museum. With all of the stunts they’re pulling, it begs the question, “Does Just Stop Oil’s message justify their actions?” Let’s see what Harbord’s staff and students had to say about this activism.
“Well, I kind of think that doing it [protesting] like this makes climate change seem like a joke, because it's not helping the cause whatsoever, it's just ruining fine art,” said Reiko Smith, grade 9. “I think there are other useful ways to help climate change that don’t involve wasting food resources in your hateful protests,” continued Reiko.
In addition, Mr. Tiberio, Harbord’s very own Art teacher, remarked on today’s negative attention based media in defense of both sides: “It's too bad that in our society, people's attention is grabbed more when there is controversy than otherwise. I cannot support nor discredit this activism. Protecting the environment is extremely important. Not destroying other people's property is also important.”
When asked about her thoughts on the protests, Ms. Rowland, teacher-advisor of the eco-club, expressed her ever-evolving opinion after discovering that the art was covered by glass: “Because it did no damage and it got people talking, it was actually more strategic than it seemed.”
The climate crisis is something that has been deserving of more recognition for some time, but the majority of Harbord students have come to agree that this form of protest is slightly extreme. Although, staff have been less opposed to it, and lean more towards neutrality on the topic.
While Just Stop Oil’s message is their priority, it's not being shown in a very positive light, especially since it involves disrespecting celebrated artworks. Despite not succeeding in getting definite change, there’s no denying that these protests have been effective in getting notice. What will Just Stop Oil do next?