The Van Gogh Soup Protesters Through Their Own Eyes (Part 1)


Phoebe Plummer with pink hair got scared as she entered room 43 of the National Gallery where Vincent van Gogh is Sunflowers was housed. It was one of their favorite paintings, and they had carefully planned their mission with Just Stop Oil, the organization that had made them feel like they had a chance to have a future in the face of the climate and cost crises. of life. But Plummer, 21, hadn’t even told their family what they were about to do.

Anna Holland, 20, was also ready, after weighing all the factors.

“Logistically, it’s easy to go into civil resistance,” Holland bravely explained, “Emotionally, it’s such a difficult choice to make.”

The facts were spinning in their heads. It wasn’t just a “polar bears and plastic straws” movement.

Plummer agreed. “I couldn’t live with myself if I just sat and watched the destruction…”, they said, “That’s why I have to act.”

Quick facts on climate change from Just Stop Oil (JSO):

  • In the summer of 2022, when the temperature hit 104 degrees Fahrenheit, 60 homes burned down in the UK alone.
  • Renewables are nine times cheaper than fossil fuels, while the UK still subsidizes fossil fuels 32 times more often.
  • 100 new fossil fuel licenses is a death sentence for people in the Global South.
  • The UK’s largest solar farm was built in just six weeks, while oil licenses will take 15-25 years before any fuel is extracted.
  • Two-thirds of British families will be forced into fuel poverty this winter: NHS nurses are forced to use food banks in the event of a cost-of-living crisis; parents will be forced to starve themselves in order to be able to feed their children; people are going to have to choose between eating and heating their homes.
  • 33 million people are displaced in Pakistan and people are dying due to the climate crisis.
  • 36 million people are facing severe famine in East Africa.

The plan had its bumps. Holland and Plummer originally intended to splash a can of tomato soup on a work by Andy Warhol, a reference to the subject of his Campbell’s soup painting, but the image they had originally sought traveled to an exhibition in the United States.

Plummer explained further. “We chose Van Gogh’s sunflowers mainly because they are iconic and notorious. Everyone knows it and everyone has a special connection with it.

It was around 11 a.m. The pair walked around the gallery for a while, trying to avoid a group of students.

Plummer grew increasingly nervous. “Oh no, we can’t throw soup at the children!” They need to move!”

After what seemed like an eternity, the students pulled away and the two activists acted quickly. They took off their big jackets and suddenly splashed Sunflowers with blood red soup. He splattered paint like an abstract performance piece, dripping red streaks onto the glass, frame and walls.

Museum visitors gasped audibly.

“Oh my God!” A female voice shouted loudly.

“Security!” shouted an older man.

Holland grabbed a glue stick from their chest, Plummer from their shoe. They quickly dripped it onto their fingers. Revealing matching black and white “JUST STOP OIL” t-shirts, they then stuck their left hands to the wall below the painting, still holding the soups with their right.

A perfectly dressed gentleman approached non-binary, genderqueer Holland and Plummer and immediately swore at them as people portraying women.

“Stupid bitches,” he practically spat.

Despite the fear in their eyes, the couple remained stoic. They knew they would cause controversy and anger, as the organization had faced in a series of other incidents.

“All Phoebe and I have to do as young white people is put our bodies and our freedom on the line and get arrested,” Holland said, “I consider it a small price to pay. pay for a future.”

They also kept perspective. According to the BBC, more than 1,700 climate activists around the world have been killed trying to stop mining, drilling and other dangerous events.

“They were angry with us,” Holland said of the blowback, “but their anger was rooted in their deeper anger at how governments mistreat and neglect us. We have all suffered under this government. We have all been forced to face the very realistic possibility that we will have a food crisis and not have enough energy to get through the winter. We are everything so scared and so angry… I know it’s not about us, it’s just a projection of wider fear and anger.

But the art world was different. The message seemed clear: “You hurt a work of art, so now I want to hurt you.

“Where is this emotional response when it is our people and our planet that are being destroyed?” Plummer wondered, “When we’re about to lose real sunflowers? »

Plummer was undeterred. They shouted the speech which had been carefully prepared.

“What is worth more? Plummer asked in a clear, calm voice, fighting a shaking body, “Art or life?”

They challenged the crowd with a dramatic pause as the two activists looked bravely ahead.

“Is it worth more than the food?” More than fair? Are you more concerned about protecting a painting, or protecting our planet and people?

The cost of living crisis is part of the oil cost crisis. Fuel is unaffordable for millions of cold, hungry families.

Plummer grabbed the can that had splattered the board and continued.

“It can’t even heat a can of soup!”

Museum attendants quickly rushed to help the painting while Holland and Plummer were still glued to the wall and wiped the soup from the protective glass with a paper towel. The paintwork was completely safe from any damage.

As the Metropolitan Police prepared to take them away, Plummer continued, pausing only to catch his breath for the sake of inflection.

“The harvests are bad. Millions of people die in monsoons, forest fires and severe droughts. We cannot afford new oil and gas. It will take everything we know and love!

As the chaos mounted, Plummer’s fear had turned into adrenaline, and ultimately empowerment. The helplessness they had felt as a disenchanted student waiting for their world to crumble in the face of an unchanging system had been channeled into activism and defiance. Hand on the wall, Plummer felt they had reached out to their future and taken it back from the governing bodies and companies that had refused to listen.

The historic two minutes were over and the reality of the consequences set in. Holland and Plummer were removed from the wall using a relatively painless solvent administered by police and arrested for criminal damage. Both were placed in holding cells.

Part 2 will be released on Wednesday, November 9.


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