Soggy sunflowers

Vincent+Van+Gogh+originally+painted+Sunflowers+in+1888%2C+but+protestors+have+given+it+a+new+claim+to+fame.+

Van Gogh Museum/Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh originally painted “Sunflowers” in 1888, but protestors have given it a new claim to fame.

Elana Bishop, Staff Writer

The Just Stop Oil Organization, “[is] a coalition of groups working together to ensure that the government commits to ending all new licenses and consents for the exploration, development and production of fossil fuels in the UK.”

On Oct. 14, two protesters from thisclimate activism group threw tomato soup on Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers at London’s National Gallery. On Nov. 9, those activists staged a protest at the National Gallery of Australia, scribbling in blue marker pen over the framed prints of Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup I. On Oct. 24, a protester from the organization attempted to superglue his own head to Johannes Vermeer’s golden age masterpiece Girl with a Pearl Earring. From this, Vox claims that “Just Stop Oil made international headlines for [these incidents], with the onslaught of publicity leading to more attention than the group had ever before received.”

However, even though these incidents have made international headlines, Vox emphasizes that “…much of the media and public attention was negative, with many questioning the efficacy of the protest and criticizing the protesters for hurting their own cause. By jeopardizing [multiple] of the most beloved works of art in the world, the group had obscured and overshadowed its actual message.”

Researchers concluded that these activist groups working to enforce a halt to oil expansion are attempting “The Radical Flank Effect.” The Guardian describes this effect as “the belief that the radical faction of a social movement can increase both support for and identification with more moderate groups in the same movement. The effect has been demonstrated in relation to the American civil rights, animal rights and climate movements.” The activists’ subtle sense of destruction in raising awareness was strategic in the fact that the media is more likely to cover actions when they are sensational or violate social norms. Likewise, in this situation, the attempt to violate globally known pieces of artwork that are worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

All targeted pieces of artwork have remained unharmed, other than the replacement of the glass enclosures of their frames. This tactic seems potentially brilliant for the public expansion of their message. They stage these basically harmless acts that end up making headlines to then reach millions of people. However, each of the protestors that participated in this movement was arrested for trespassing and destruction of private property. 

Their protests will continue to escalate in potentially unlawful practices until the United Kingdom’s Government acknowledges and takes action. If you look at their website (https://juststopoil.org/) you will see that countries all over the world are participating in this movement, but with much more severe acts of protest.