On October 9, two activists from Extinction Rebellion thought it would be smart if they glued themselves to a Pablo Picasso painting. The artwork was his 1951 Massacre in Korea, and, as per the ABC, it’s hanging in the National Gallery of Victoria.
Below these two protesters was a banner that said, “CLIMATE CHAOS = WAR + FAMINE.”
These individuals were removed from the premises, alongside one other individual. A spokesperson for the gallery said the perspex glazing protected the painting.
Now, I hate the climate crisis just as much as the next guy who’ll drown in a sea of melted ice caps. I also think that Picasso, while a great painter, was not a great dude. However, this Extinction Rebellion protest really made me cringe up.
This is because Massacre in Korea is a piece that condemns the fact that American soldiers slaughtered real civilians during the Korean war. The naked women and children that it depicts could very well be the South Korean refugees of the vile and heinous No Gun Ri Massacre. It’s responding to a very different crisis that deserves a platform just as much as the climate crisis does.
Therefore, Picasso isn’t an enemy of the climate that we must out-stage or overshadow. He wasn’t in favour of Australia’s coal-loving policies. He was a painter who painted the horrors of his time, and these protesters literally stuck themselves in the middle of his condemnation.
This isn’t the first time Extinction Rebellion missed the mark. Back in 2019, The Guardian reported that this group disrupted London Underground’s trains. This confused a lot of folks because trains aren’t responsible for the climate crisis the same way cars are. Why make your message murky when they’re plenty of good automobiles to disrupt?
In both of these instances, Extinction Rebellion wasn’t an effective or clear communicator. Which is frustrating because it can be done. For example, School Strike 4 Climate Australia is brilliant. When those school kids protest each year, they clearly demonstrate that the planet is messed up and they want a brighter future for their adult selves.
Extinction Rebellion could one day receive similar praise. However, due to the confusion and cringe some of their protests produce, they’re not getting universal admiration from their allies. If this group wants to improve, then they have to think more deeply about who they’re targeting and why they are targeting them.