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Protesters glue themselves to artwork
Photograph: Getty Images

Why are climate change protesters gluing themselves to art?

Campaign group Just Stop Oil is demanding the government halt fossil fuel deals

Written by
Ellie Muir

Traditional protest tactics and civil disobedience can often be the most effective way to get politicians’ attention. Extinction Rebellion hit the headlines in 2018 when they blocked the entrance to Waterloo Bridge and caused disruption at train stations, but faced heavy criticism from commentators who said the protest action was impacting the lives of everyday people.

Fast forward to 2022 and there’s a new climate protest group on the block called Just Stop Oil, and they’ve got a different (and let’s be honest, rather bizarre) strategy: gluing themselves to famous and prestigious works of art in galleries and museums. 

Last month, members of the group stuck themselves to a copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’ at the Royal Academy in London. Five activists glued themselves to the frame of the painting after graffitiing a message across the wall below it saying ‘no new oil’. The group also made headlines in recent months for storming the track at the British Grand Prix, blocking entrances to petrol stations and disrupting traffic on the M25.

So what is the point of all these protests? Well, generally speaking, the group is aiming to put pressure on the government to halt future fossil fuel deals. It’s run by organisers from Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain, who have also attracted public attention in recent years for gluing themselves to main roads. In their own words: ‘We are a coalition of groups working together to ensure the government commits to halting new fossil fuel licensing and production.’

And why target famous artworks specifically? The group wants to address the climate crisis by targeting different industries that produce outsize carbon emissions, and one major culprit is the art world. That’s compounded by the fact that several institutions also have strong financial connections with the fossil fuel industry.

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