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Activists Arrested for Throwing Soup at a Van Gogh Classic

Updated: Feb 16, 2023

Grandma always said: don't play with your food!


Two young women from the organization Just Stop Oil were arrested after their controversial act of protest in the National Gallery in London. Van Gogh's "Sunflowers," worth up to £72.5 million ($80.99 million) lay victim to the soup-bath just before the women glued themselves to the wall and announced their presence.



Photo courtesy of Wix.com


On This week's Grocery List:

Tomato soup? Check. Glue? Check. Angsty youth? Check, check, check.


The internet always has a great time stirring controversy over protests conducted by young women, especially those with short, dyed hair in art museums. Most of the public on Twitter, it seems, are just intrigued and confused. Events like these beg us to ask:

  • What is the recipe for acceptable protest?

  • What are the ingredients to making a statement?

  • If we can't afford the ingredients, will canned soup do?

  • What's better: Tomato or Chicken Noodle?


 

Paint me hungry


As an angsty, artsy youth myself, I am sorry about the picture this paints of the people whose concerns and demands are --apart from the puns --valid. The Just Stop Oil organization has been protesting frequently over the past two years since the UK's reintroduction of pipelining and fracking in 2019. Since the Russian and Ukrainian war, the newly elected prime minister, Liz Truss and her staff, have announced new efforts to declare the UK's independence from the Russian oil industry. In fact, protests have erupted all across Europe raising similar concerns, which even resulted in police raids of the homes of Italian activists in Milan. The petrol crisis has not nearly affected Britain or the EU on the same level as those discussed here by the BBC, however. Putting ethical sourcing of materials aside, Britain is one of many first-world nations that can, metaphorically, afford the ingredients to make a statement.

The women raised good enough questions of their own. The videos of their act that have surfaced online have shown their disapproval of the pedestal on which we uphold artwork, which fulfills us in this moment, in respect to the environment, which will or will not curate longevity.

"What is worth more, art or life? Is it worth more than food? Worth 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, fuel is unaffordable to millions of cold, hungry families. They can’t even afford to heat a tin of soup,” -one activist said


Stirring the pot


While admittedly walking the line of controversy, some argue that their actions correlate exactly to their demands. According to their website, they want "war-style" mobilization toward low-carbon technology. (It could've been worse, then, right)? Another lesson from grandma is: violence is not the answer. It raises a lot of disapproval from an audience that, arguably, is not their target. Apart from the online outbursts, the British people visiting the National Gallery are permitted to enter at no cost.

















Soup on your Face


As we know from the previous blog post, the art world is not exempt from protest. The London National Gallery is surely a long topic of interest when it comes to repatriation, for example, but its label as a national gallery may've gone gravely misunderstood. This is where "addressing the problem at its source" gets slippery. While it is difficult to get the attention of the government, there are some online who agree that this may have been an act against their own interests. Throwing food in and of itself is, without a doubt, childish, but that's not to say it was pointless. Perhaps, though, it was misguided.


Some may be surprised to learn that the National Gallery of London is not a federally funded institution. The gallery, in all of its riches, is an exempt charity that belongs to the government on behalf of the British public. The first instance of this happening was in 15th century Italy when Anna Maria Luisa of the Medici family declared the Uffizi as the first public art museum in the world. Shortly thereafter, Florence became a booming spot for high-class, British men to travel and learn about Greek and Roman art. This was called The Grand Tour. It was an immense step towards education and innovation in philosophy, science, medicine, literature, and culture. While it did exclusively serve high class white men in its beginning stages, it was a starting point to liberalizing education.


This is why it's free to enter and explore some of our favorite galleries: because we fund them. So, who pays for the damages? Nonetheless, Van Gogh's precious painting was not reported of any damage --only minor damages on its frame --and the glass that covered the painting was wiped clean. After 45 seconds of protest, the women were quickly removed and arrested for criminal damage and aggravated trespass.

The internet asks: what difference does this make? With hashtags like #SoupGate trending on Twitter, the act has surely done its job of curating attention, but will it inspire direct action?


What do you think?

 

When it comes to making a statement: stay creative, friends.
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