The Eye Turning Stunts of Just Stop Oil

Writer: Connor Lee

Editor: Noor

Visual: Gabrielle

On the 14th of October, two cans of tomato soup splashed onto the protective glass covering Vincent Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers”, causing a spark that pierced straight through the public consciousness. After having their hands unglued from the National Gallery’s walls, climate activists Anna Holland and Phoebe Plummer were subsequently arrested by the police, leaving shock, outrage, and a dirtied painting in their wake. 

The controversial stunt has become one of the most successful climate activism campaigns of recent years. The sheer virality that it has generated on various social media sites like Twitter, caught many’s attention. However, on the flip side, said attention was more focused on the disrespectful handling of Van Gogh’s work, and for many people, the message that the activists and their UK-based organization “Just Stop Oil” attempted to spread fell on deaf ears.

The main goal of the non-violent protest group is to advocate against the many fossil fuel licenses that will be issued by the British government in the near future. Through vandalizing Van Gogh’s art painting and attracting attention, the group is making an effort in reversing the damage that oil inflicts onto the environment. At the same time, Just Stop Oil is also encouraging further investments towards renewable energy as well. After their founding in February 2022, the group would hold protests by blocking roads near oil facilities and other locations around the UK, they also had a history of vandalizing art even before the Van Gogh incident, but only by then did their exploits truly gain traction. 

The initial waves created by this event pushed itself to become the forefront of the new trend in climate activism. Soon enough, there have been various other incidents of art vandalism, some targets being Claude Monet’s “Haystacks”, Johannes Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” and Gustav Klimt’s “Death and Life”. This is not just the case for art exhibitions, either; various car dealerships and museums have been attacked as well, carried out by other climate protest groups such as “Last Generation”, “Futuro Vegeto” and “Extinction Rebellion”, who have all been influenced by the Van Gogh incident to follow suit. 

As the news for these climate protests spread, many believed that the targets of this vandalism were far too detached from the true perpetrators who are worsening the climate. Most of the artists whose work was attacked, Van Gogh in particular, often would express their love for the environment through these paintings. This contradictory scenario, where climate activists attacked the art of nature-loving artists, left many with a bad taste in their mouth.

Attacking and vandalizing art has historically proven to be very controversial; the more popular and beloved the art piece is, the more outrage it will garner. However, while these shock tactics clearly are effective in bringing attention, they are less than ideal for bringing change and action to an underspoken issue. People who are expressing outrage in response to the vandalism will not be willing to hold discussions about the fossil fuel crisis that Just Stop Oil is advocating against.

As of 2022, the damage of climate change is reaching irreversible territories, and we are currently living in desperate times. In response to this situation, the desperate means that Just Stop Oil and so many other climate activists are commiting to are brash, destructive, and in some instances contradictory. Despite this, what these methods are succeeding in doing compared to more conventional means of activism, is turning more eyes towards them. However, these shock tactics also alienate many from its original message. On the internet and news media, there has been more conversation about the art vandalism and its hypocrisy, rather than the purpose of Just Stop Oil and the fossil fuel licenses that will further damage our environment. The actions of these protest groups are clearly wrong, but simply ridiculing the protesters, not reading into what they are saying, and moving on with your day is also just as bad. More people acknowledging a complex issue like this fossil fuel problem is something that we need before it is too late. Agreeing with the activists’ cause does not equate to condemning their methods; while the art is important, what we also need is discussion and quick action to be taken, in order to make progress in mitigating this issue. 

Works Cited

“Just Stop Oil – No More Oil and Gas.” Just Stop Oil,

Mouriquand, David. “Interview: Just Stop Oil Activist on Why It’s Right to Attack Art.” Euronews, 24 Oct. 2022,

Bushard, Brian. “Climate Activists Throw Black “Oil” at Gustav Klimt’s “Death and Life”—Here Are All the Recent Protests Targeting Museums.” Forbes, Accessed 24 Nov. 2022.

‌Aitken, Peter. “WATCH: Anti-Oil Protesters in London Spray Paint Storefronts of Bentley, Ferrari, Bugatti Dealerships.” Fox News, 26 Oct. 2022, Accessed 24 Nov. 2022.