In a bold move reminiscent of past protests, two students, Hanan Ameur and Harrison Donnelly, were arrested at London’s National Gallery. They had smashed the protective glass of “The Rokeby Venus,” a painting by Diego Velázquez. This wasn’t the first time the painting faced such an attack; in 1914, suffragette Mary Richardson also targeted it to protest the imprisonment of Emmeline Pankhurst.
Ameur, 22, and Donnelly, 20, used safety hammers for the act, aiming to send a strong message about the urgency of stopping new oil and gas projects in the UK. Ameur said, “As a kid I saw myself growing up to be an astronaut or a singer. I saw a future, however ridiculous it was. Now, those day-dreams have ended. The future we are heading for doesn’t allow space for them anymore.” Donnelly added, “The suffragettes are proof these methods work to achieve social change. That is why we have taken this action today. New oil will destroy everything we love. I do not want to be here, but I cannot continue to see this government fail all of us.”
The National Gallery reported that the painting suffered minimal damage and is being cared for, but there’s no word on when it will be back on display. For now, “A Dead Soldier,” which was once thought to be by Velázquez, hangs in its place.
This incident is the latest in a series of protests by Just Stop Oil, which has previously seen activists target Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” and other artworks. The group’s spokesperson quoted Pankhurst: “You have to make more noise than anybody else, you have to make yourself more obtrusive than anybody else, you have to fill all the papers more than anybody else.”
The Metropolitan Police have arrested about 100 Just Stop Oil protesters after a slow march in Whitehall. The group is known for its disruptive tactics, which have led to numerous arrests for blocking roads. The police have been using new powers under the Public Order Act to manage these protests, leading to concerns from human rights groups like Liberty about the right to protest.
Just Stop Oil continues to rally support for their cause, inviting people to join their slow marches in London from November 20th. Their actions have sparked a conversation about the role of protest in democracy and the government’s response to climate change. As the debate unfolds, the world is watching to see how this blend of art, history, and activism will play out in the fight against the fossil fuel industry.