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Art Meets Activism
On a Sunday morning, in Paris, the world famous Mona Lisa witnessed a strange event. Two climate activists bypassed security barriers and threw soup at Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece. They wore t-shirts bearing the name ‘Riposte Alimentaire,’ pointing to their affiliation with a climate activist group. The painting was protected by a glass panel.
This incident came after several days of protests from French farmers, bringing the spotlight to a global audience. The activists’ bold move stirred a pressing debate: What matters more, our artistic heritage or the right to sustainable food?
A Shielded Masterspiece
After the incident, staff at the museum hurried to cover the painting with black screens and asked visitors to leave. Later, the Riposte Alimentaire Group claimed that two of its members were responsible for the incident.
The Mona Lisa is no stranger to such acts. In May of 2022, it was smeared in cake. The perpetrator, who was escorted by security, voiced concern for the planet after feigning a disability.
Patterns of Protest
This event is a part of a trend where famous works of art are used to highlight environmental protests. Just Stop Oil activists will target London in October 2022. Van Gogh’s Sunflowers with tomato juice and glued themselves to a copy of Da Vinci’s The Last Supper. In the same month, two activists glued themselves to Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring in The Hague, while others doused Monet’s $110 million Haystacks with mashed potatoes in Germany.
The trend continued in Rome with Ultima Generazione activists throwing vegetable soup at Van Gogh’sSower in November. By June 2023, Aterstall Vatmarker activists had vandalized a Claude Monet painting in Stockholm with red paint, and in November 2023, Just Stop Oil members hammered the glass protecting a 17th-century Velázquez painting in London’s National Gallery.