Activists around the world are setting their sights on another target in an effort to draw attention to the climate emergency: famous artworks in museums.
Two protesters superglued their hands to a Pablo Picasso painting in a Melbourne, Australia, museum on Sunday, in an increasingly popular stunt activists are turning to in order to draw attention to the climate crisis. The protesters, who are from Extinction Rebellion, an international environmental group with chapters across the globe, glued their hands to Picasso's "Massacre en Corée" (Massacre in Korea) painting at the National Gallery of Victoria, before being arrested.
They also laid a banner on the ground that read "Climate Chaos = War + Famine," which the group said "highlighted the connection between climate breakdown & human suffering."
The protesters were later released without being charged. The painting, which was protected by a perspex covering, was unharmed, a spokesperson for the gallery told BuzzFeed News.
Extinction Rebellion spokesperson Brad Homewood told the Guardian that they did it knowing it would not damage the artwork. "Our intention was always to glue on to the perspex protecting it," he said.
Activists have often resorted to bold stunts to convey the urgency of the climate crisis. In 2019, Extinction Rebellion brought London to a near-standstill when activists occupied major traffic hubs, glued themselves to buildings and trains, and parked a boat in one of the city's busiest intersections.
This tactic, instead of disrupting essential functions, interrupts people's consumption and enjoyment of art, said Margaret Klein Salamon, the executive director of Climate Emergency Fund, which funds climate groups around the world engaged in disruptive protest, including several Extinction Rebellion chapters.
"People going to experience art and culture, and that's all wonderful stuff. But it's all in danger because of the climate emergency," Salamon told BuzzFeed News.
Climate activists in Europe have launched similar protests this year. Protesters affiliated with Just Stop Oil, a coalition of groups aimed at pressuring the UK government to end investment in fossil fuels, stuck their hands onto the frames of famous paintings, including artwork by Van Gogh and da Vinci.
Activists with Ultima Generazione, an Italian climate activist organization, glued themselves to a Botticelli painting in Florence.
"If the climate collapses, all of civilization as we know it collapses," Ultima Generazione tweeted in Italian. "There will be no more tourism, no museums, no art."
Salamon said these protests aim to shatter what she called "a mass delusion of normalcy."
"We're in this kind of surreal situation in which scientists are telling us this is the point of no return. And yet all of our institutions ... they're all just marching forward with a little bit of window dressing talk about sustainability, but basically continuing as usual," she said.
"So these activists intervene and they say, Things are not normal. They're so bad that I'm gonna do this crazy thing and glue myself to a painting or a frame," she said. "It only makes sense because of how absolutely terrible the climate emergency is."
Activists in the US are taking note of the amount of attention that these protests have drawn internationally, too. Mun Chong, a spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion NYC, told BuzzFeed News that the media coverage these protests have received is "something for us to strategically consider."
Chong said activists are not setting out to alienate the public, but protest is, by nature, polarizing. The art community has a big role in creating awareness about the climate crisis, and if it makes some of them uncomfortable, "that's what needs to happen," she added.
"There is literally no way to protect these priceless works of art from the climate emergency unless we implement incredibly huge investments and policies that are currently way outside of political reality," Salamon said. "Those activists are on the same side as you. They're not protesting the museum or have a problem with the art. They're making a desperate statement that we are in danger."