Protests can be an effective way to achieve change — or at least, get people talking — and the more creative, the better. And over the weekend, when a protestor threw cake at the Mona Lisa in the name of climate action, he certainly got people talking.
Here are all the details on the demonstration, how the painting fared, what we know about the protestor, and how he used this moment to talk about climate change.
A climate activist threw a cake at the Mona Lisa this weekend.
The Louvre is one of the most famous art museums in the world, and it’s also home to one of the most famous paintings in the world. The Mona Lisa is always surrounded by a crowd of museum goers — and fortunately, it’s also always surrounded by bulletproof glass, which also happens to be cake-proof.
According to witnesses of this weekend’s protest, and as seen in clips that circulated social media, here’s what happened: A man wearing a black wig and lipstick visited the Louvre in a wheelchair (some reports say he was attempting to disguise himself as an old woman) on Sunday, May 29. According to The New York Times, the Louvre stated that the man faked a disability so that he could get closer to the painting.
While viewing the famous Leonardo da Vinci painting from the front of a throng of guests, he suddenly got up from the wheelchair, crossed the barricade that keeps visitors about 15 feet from the painting, pulled out some cake, threw it right at the painting, and started smearing the frosting along the glass.
Clips show three security guards physically pulling him away from the Mona Lisa, with a red rose in his mouth. He also reportedly threw some roses out to the crowd, according to AP News.
As security escorted him away, he took a moment to address the crowd, and speak to the meaning of his protest.
“Think about the Earth,” he told the crowd in French, as per CBS News. “There are people who are destroying the Earth. Think about it ... all artists, think about the Earth — this is why I did this. Think about the planet.”
Was the Mona Lisa harmed? Here’s what happened to the painting and the activist.
Fortunately, the Mona Lisa’s bulletproof glass protected her, leaving her unharmed by the cake and cream. Footage from right after the incident shows a security guard wiping the glass clean.
The activist behind the protest, who is 36 years old, will be held responsible for his actions, according to AP News. The news agency reported that the Paris prosecutor’s office confirmed that the protestor is in custody in a “police psychiatric unit,” and that there is already an investigation into the “damage of cultural artifacts,” even though there is clearly no damage to the painting.
While going after an artifact as famous as the Mona Lisa is certainly going to land a person in trouble, it’s clear that this man did not intend to actually harm the painting with cake, as that would obviously be impossible, considering the protective glass. Rather, he most likely wanted to cause a stir, and send out a message to artists about the severity of climate change — and in that, he unquestionably succeeded.
That said, this protest was definitely a controversial one, leaving many affronted by the attack on such a famous work of art, others glad that a few more people may now consider the plight of climate change, and others simply amused by the drama. So if you're wondering whether a protest like this can be considered ethical or effective, know that anyone you ask will give you a different answer.