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What was the point of eco-activists throwing soup at the Mona Lisa?

Roddy Scheer
climate change protest
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Dear EarthTalk: What was the point of eco-activists throwing soup at the Mona Lisa? Is defacing art and other great works of culture now some kind of tactic?  – Ben Miller, Austin, TX

On Jan. 28, two women walked into the Louvre, went up to what may be the most famous painting in the world, and hurled pumpkin soup at the enticing smile of the Mona Lisa. On the women’s t-shirts the words “FOOD RIPOSTE” could be read written in thick black marker. Da Vinci’s iconic painting was protected behind safety glass and was unharmed, but many are confused on why the women would target the Mona Lisa.

The two women were a part of the French activist group the Riposte Alimentaire, or Food Retaliation group. The group is described as an organization advocating for government action on climate change and sustainable agriculture. As the women stood in front of the Mona Lisa they shouted, “What’s the most important thing? Art, or the right to healthy and sustainable food?”

In the days preceding the attack, the French capital had seen widespread protests by farmers. They had used their tractors to set up road blockades and deter traffic across France. The protests were a call for the end to rising fuel costs, better pay for their produce, protection against cheap imports, and simplified government regulations. The Riposte Alimentaire’s supported this goal and their website called for France’s government to give people better access to food while providing farmers a sustainable income.

The big question is how does targeting the Mona Lisa help the Riposte Alimentaire achieve their goal of sustainable agriculture? Activists attacking art is not uncommon. In October 2022, Johannes Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” was attacked when two climate activists glued themselves to the painting while another threw a red substance into the artwork. Also in 2022, Vincent van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” was splashed with tomato soup by environmental activists. Claude Monet’s “Les Meules” was targeted by activists from the Last Generation group and spattered with mashed potatoes.

What makes targeting famous artwork such a common tactic of activist groups? The main appeal of this strategy is that it is attention grabbing. When people hear that a well-known artwork was attacked the first instinct is to be scandalized. The second instinct is curiosity. They want to know why, who would possibly do such a thing. This allows activist groups to get substantial news coverage and attention for their organization. It is important to note that because of museum safety glass and other protection measures, no famous artwork has actually been damaged by activist actions. The attacks have been purely performative, meant to intrigue and enrage.

Radical civil disobedience and disruptive politics can also help make less aggressive activism tactics more welcome and even more successful in some cases. While attacking artwork may seem senseless, there is a strategy at hand. The end goal isn’t necessarily public reaction, but to influence the big decision-makers in government.

CONTACTS: Climate activists hurl soup at the Mona Lisa at the Louvre Museum in Paris, www.france24.com/en/france/20240128-activists-hurl-soup-on-glass-protected-mona-lisa-at-paris-s-louvre-museum; The ‘Mona Lisa’ Soup Protest, Explained, www.forbes.com/sites/danidiplacido/2024/01/28/the-mona-lisa-soup-splatter-stunt-explained/; How throwing soup at the Mona Lisa can help fight climate change, www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2024-02-01/climate-change-activism-mona-lisa-artwork.

EarthTalk® is produced by Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss for the 501(c)3 nonprofit EarthTalk. See more at emagazine.com. To donate, visit earthtalk.org. Send questions to: [email protected].


Roddy Scheer

Roddy Scheer

EarthTalk® is produced by Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss for the 501(c)3 nonprofit EarthTalk. Send questions to [email protected].