Climate activists glued themselves to a Picasso in Melbourne. Why are famous artworks being targeted?

Two Extinction Rebellion activists have glued themselves to a prized Picasso painting at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne before being removed from the gallery and arrested.
The group claims they targeted this particular painting, titled “Massacre in Korea”, because of its depiction of the “suffering of war”.
The pair also displayed a banner as part of the protest, which read: “Climate Chaos=War + Famine”.

In a video posted on social media, one protester could be heard saying: “We’d prefer not to be doing this but desperate times call for desperate measures.”

The painting itself was unharmed as the pair had only stuck their hands to the protective covering. But this isn’t the first-time high art has been targeted in the name of climate protests.

Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci

Earlier this year, a 36-year-old man disguised as an elderly woman smeared cake on the protective glass covering of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa at Louvre Museum.

Many believed this was a climate protest as the man was filmed yelling: “Think of the earth, people are destroying the earth” while being led away by security at the Paris gallery. The man was placed in psychiatric care following his arrest.

Credit: Twitter @klevisl007 via AAP

My Heart’s in the Highlands by Horatio McCulloch

In June, Just Stop Oil activists stuck themselves to Horatio McCulloch’s My Heart’s in the Highlands which is currently on display in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery. Protesters made a connection between the 1860’s land clearings and the current climate uncertainty.

The Last Supper by Giampietrino

The UK-based group staged protests targeting works by Vincent Van Gogh, John Constable, and Giampietrino’s The Last Supper before other climate activists began replicating the stunt.

Italian-based climate activist group Ultima Generazione (Last Generation) used the demonstration tactic to promote the same message “Just Stop Oil” by sticking themselves to a series of statues in the following months.

Just Stop Oil's Last Super protest.

Members of an Italian-based climate activist group stuck themselves to a series of statues. Credit: Just Stop Oil

Sistine Madonna by Raphael

German activists from the group Letzte Generation, which also translates to Last Generation, took part in the trend when they attached their hands to a 16th-century Raphael painting, Sistine Madonna. Protesters said they targeted the artwork because of its depiction of Jesus Christ facing death, adding that future generations are facing an “equally predictable death, will also be the result of climate collapse”.
German climate change protest stuck to a Raphael painting.

German climate change activists stuck their hands to a 16th-century Raphael painting, Sistine Madonna. Credit: Letze Generation

“The activists are actually artists”

It’s unclear whether the demonstrations inspired the Melbourne protest, but a multidisciplinary artist and University of Sydney art doctorate student Patrizia Biondi told SBS News in July that we may see similar stunts take place as “the need and urgency (for climate action) rises”.
Ms Biondi pointed out that these actions are often undertaken by artists themselves and that the demonstrations tend to be carefully executed to avoid damaging the artworks themselves.

“The activists are actually artists. And for an artist, there would be nothing more abominable than damaging an artwork,” she said.

Ms Biondi explained this wave of climate activism tends to focus their demonstrations on artworks that mimic the point they are trying to make.

“We need to be thinking about how this type of suffering will increase, and how the societal breakdown that scientists are telling us is coming will eventually put us all in the firing line,” Extinction Rebellion said in a statement.

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