Activists with the group Just Stop Oil have been known to disrupt sporting events and vandalize valuable artwork in their protests for climate action. On Nov. 6, 2023, two Just Stop Oil protesters targeted Diego Velazquez’s “Rokeby Venus” painting in the National Gallery, trying to use hammers to break the safety glass around the iconic artwork.
A suffragette vandalized the "Rokeby Venus" painting in 1914 to raise awareness of her cause, which is exactly why the climate protesters chose it for their own statement, according to a press release from Just Stop Oil. Here are the details on Just Stop Oil’s protest at the "Rokeby Venus" painting.
Just Stop Oil protesters targeted Velázquez's "Rokeby Venus" painting.
Two Just Stop Oil protesters, Hanan Ameur, 22, and Harrison Donnelly, 20, were arrested at the National Gallery in London on Nov. 6 after they used safety hammers to break the glass on Velázquez’s "Rokeby Venus," the BBC reported.
A video posted to Just Stop Oil’s X page, formerly known as Twitter, shows the two protesters breaking the protective glass on the painting with the small orange-handled hammers. They then turned around, and Hanan shouted, “Women did not get the vote by voting. It is time for deeds, and not words. It is time to Just Stop Oil.”
“Politics is failing us. Politics failed women in 1914. Millions will die due to new oil and gas licensing. If we love history, if we love art, and if we love our families, we must Just Stop Oil,” Harrison said. The two then sat down in front of the painting and held hands.
The two activists were “arrested for criminal damage,” tweeted London’s Metropolitan Police. While they were staging their protest inside the National Gallery, a group of Just Stop Oil activists were slow-marching on Whitehall, a street in the center of many government buildings in London, CNN reported. Police arrested about 100 of the protesters.
In a statement, Just Stop Oil representatives said they will be meeting at Trafalgar Square and slow-marching the streets of London every day from November 20th. “We are not prepared to watch silently while this government, bought by the criminal in the oil industry, are planning for millions to die, whilst the judiciary imprisons those that stand against this injustice. We will march in ever greater numbers and we will keep marching until this government stops all new oil and gas projects in the UK."
The same Rokeby Venus painting was also once attacked by a suffragette in 1914.
In 1914, suffragette Mary Richardson vandalized the "Rokeby Venus" painting with a meat cleaver in retaliation for the arrest of Emmeline Pankhurst, founder of the Women’s Social and Political Union, according to Forbes.
At the time, Richardson reportedly told the press, “I have tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history as a protest against the government for destroying Mrs. Pankhurst, who is the most beautiful character in modern history."
Just Stop Oil protesters Ameur and Donnelly further explained they were inspired by the activism of Richardson and Pankhurst. “Over 100 years ago, the suffragette Mary Richardson attacked the Rokeby Venus portrait for the unjust imprisonment of Emmeline Pankhurst. Today, I have used similar methods in the fight for climate justice,” Ameur said in a statement.
“Emmeline Pankhurst said: 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,” 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.”