Two Just Stop Oil protestors have been charged by English courts with criminal damage to the frame of Vincent van Gogh’s Peach Trees in Blossom, held in the Courtauld Institute.
The protest took place at the end of June and was among the first of many protests that eco-activists would bring to museums.
The two protestors, Emily Brocklebank, 24, and Louis McKechnie, 22, glued themselves to the frame of Peach Trees in Blossom. Police were called, and solvents were used to detach the protestors from the frame.
The museum’s initial assessment was that the painting was unharmed by the protest but that the frame would need treatment. During the court hearing, it was said that the frame is, in fact, permanently damaged.
Brocklebank received a 21-day sentence, which was suspended for six months, and might also be subject to an electrically monitored six week curfew, according to the Guardian. McKechnie was jailed for three weeks. Their crime caused around $2,300 of damage to the 18th-century frame that held van Gogh’s painting.
At the time of the protest, McKechnie said in a statement, “It is immoral for cultural institutions to stand by and watch whilst our society descends into collapse. Galleries should close. Directors of art institutions should be calling on the government to stop all new oil and gas projects immediately. We are either in resistance or we are complicit.”
Brocklebank told the courts, per the Guardian, “When it comes to protesting, just speaking does not get a platform. By gluing, it gives a story which the media chooses to follow.”
Protestors with Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion have been leading actions around England, spraying paint on buildings, holding signs outside of oil company buildings and government offices, and stopping traffic in London laying down in the road. These forms of protest have hardly received attention from the media and public as their actions in museums.
Activists involved are being arrested and in some cases sentenced for their protests, no matter the form. A protestor was arrested outside of the offices of HK London, which does public relations work for Exxon Mobil. Fifteen Extinction Rebellion protestors were arrested for spraying buildings with paint. A protestor was arrested and sentenced to 268 days in prison for occupying trees in the Bluebell Woods, which were slated for destruction to make way for a controversial rail line.
Eco-activists have been particularly galvanized by a grim report by the UN that found there is no credible path to staying below 1.5 degrees Celsius warming, as staying on target would require an immediate 40 percent reduction in emissions. Eco-activists have taken the line that mitigating climate change is possible, but will require radical change prompted by mass acts of civil disobedience.
As these acts increase, however, the New York Times reported that the English police have been given more latitude to quash protests, and punishments for certain protests have been made more extreme. For example, the penalty for causing an obstruction on a highway now comes with an unlimited fine and up to six months in prison.