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Protesters throw soup at Van Gogh artwork


LONDON: Climate protesters threw soup at Vincent van Gogh’s ‘sunflowers’ at the National Gallery in London on Friday to protest against fossil fuel extraction, but caused no damage to the glass-covered painting .

The group Just Stop Oil, which wants the UK government to stop new oil and gas projects, said activists threw two cans of tomato soup at the oil painting, one of the most iconic works by the Dutch artist. The two demonstrators also glued themselves to the wall of the gallery.

The soup spattered the glass covering the painting and its gilded frame. The gallery said “there is some minor damage to the frame, but the paintwork is unscathed”. It was cleaned and returned to its place in the gallery on Friday afternoon.

The work is one of many versions of “Sunflowers” that Van Gogh painted in the late 1880s.

London’s Metropolitan Police said officers arrested two people on suspicion of criminal damage and aggravated trespassing.

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“Specialist officers have now removed them and they have been taken into custody at a central London police station,” police said in a statement.

A group of protesters from the same group then gathered at police headquarters and sprayed yellow paint on the rotating ‘New Scotland Yard’ sign in front of it. Several also stuck to the road, blocking traffic. According to the police, 24 people were arrested.

Just Stop Oil has drawn attention – and criticism – for targeting artworks in museums. In July, Just Stop Oil campaigners stuck to the frame of an early copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’ at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, and John Constable’s ‘The Hay Wain’ at the National Gallery.

Activists also blocked bridges and intersections across London during two weeks of protests.

The protesters were part of a “radical new flank” of the environmental movement that University of Maryland social scientist Dana Fisher calls “the disruptors.”

“These tactics are specifically aimed at getting media attention,” said Fisher, who studies activists. According to her, they appeared to have targeted a glass-covered painting to cause minimal damage, but were attracting more attention than previous activists who had attached themselves to the art.

Throwing tomato soup “is an escalation of a tactic,” Fisher said.

University of Pennsylvania climatologist Michael Mann has expressed concern that vandalism is “alienating many people that we need to bring into the fold. People who are natural allies in the climate battle but who will draw negative associations with climate advocacy and activism from such acts.

The wave of protests comes as the UK government opens a new licensing round for oil and gas exploration in the North Sea, despite criticism from environmentalists and scientists who say the move undermines the country’s commitment to Europe West in the fight against climate change.