A pair of climate activists smeared maple syrup on a Vancouver Art Gallery painting before gluing themselves to a wall on Saturday, bringing a string of environmentally motivated art protests around the world to Canada.
A video posted on social media shows two women demonstrators throwing the syrup on the Emily Carr painting Stumps and Sky and starting a speech against the Coastal GasLink pipeline. The project is being built on British Columbia’s north coast after years of controversy over its passage through Wet’suwet’en territory.
“We’re here to raise awareness about the climate crisis, the climate crisis is the biggest crisis of our time,” 24-year-old Emily Kelsall says in the footage. The camera pans to the rest of the room, where a security guard and a handful of museum visitors stand by.
“Instead of acting responsibly, the government is building fossil-fuel infrastructure.”
Police spokesman Sergeant Steve Addison said they were contacted by the VAG about the incident on Saturday afternoon. He added that police “know who the women are” and will conduct a full investigation.
The VAG, which has condemned the protest, said they believe there will be no permanent damage to the painting. It added that staff were assisting police in their investigation.
BREAKING: MAPLE SYRUP THROWN ON EMILY CARR PAINTING BY ACTIVISTS— Stop Fracking Around (@StopFrackingA) November 12, 2022
💀 Why are we protecting these paintings when we are not respecting indigenous law nor protecting the millions of lives that will be lost due to climate and societal collapse? pic.twitter.com/qDB0W9AuE3
“We do support the free expression of ideas, but not at the expense of suppressing the ideas and artistic expressions of others, or otherwise inhibiting people from access to those ideas,” said Anthony Kiendl, VAG director and chief executive.
The two demonstrators are part of a group called Stop Fracking Around. Spokesman Don Marshall said SFA had chosen to mimic European climate protesters, who have thrown food at famous works of art to compare their preservation to the lack of protection for life. Some of the paintings targeted include Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa in Paris, which was smeared with cake, and Edvard Munch’s The Scream in Oslo.
In an interview, Ms. Kelsall said museum staff told her they understood what she was trying to do but would have to press charges. She said staff let her and the other protester leave the building after taking pictures of their ID. She said she’s worried about the charges but that the risk is worth it for their cause.
Earlier this week, 92 high-profile museum leaders around the world came together to denounce the string of art protests in an open letter, although they did emphasize that museums are sites for “social discourse.”
The museum leaders said protesters “severely underestimate the fragility of these irreplaceable objects, which must be preserved as part of our world cultural heritage.”
“As museum directors entrusted with the care of these works, we have been deeply shaken by their risky endangerment.”
Mr. Marshall said it was important to their group that they chose a piece of art that was protected by glass and wouldn’t be permanently damaged by the attack. He added that Stumps and Sky was specifically targeted because it shows a vast landscape featuring tree stumps, which he said signify the old-growth logging taking place in B.C. – a process that environmentalists have protested.
Mr. Marshall also said the method of protest is also significant because he wants people to experience shock – the same kind he believes they should feel for the continuing impact of climate change.
Some of those consequences, he said, include the deadly heat dome that hit Western Canada last year, which led to 619 deaths.
“It’s important to preserve the art, but it’s hard to compare the 619 people who died and this piece as art,” he said.