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How far should civil disobedience go?

July 15, 2023

When climate activists began throwing mashed potatoes and tomato soup at paintings, the world was outraged. Shock tactics or vandalism? How far should civil disobedience go? Why is it often women who dedicate their lives to a cause they believe in?

Climate protesters of Last Generation after throwing mashed potatoes at the Claude Monet painting "Les Meules” at Potsdam’s Barberini Museum
Image: Last Generation/AP/picture alliance

Climate activists are targeting art, throwing tomato soup on a masterpiece by van Gogh and mashed potatoes on a Monet. Their attack is successful: The attention is huge, as is the outrage. How far should civil disobedience go? What means are appropriate, and, above all, what does art have to do with it?

Worldwide, museums and artists are trying to figure out how to deal with the attacks. While the Kunsthalle Hamburg shows solidarity with the climate activists, the Museum Barberini in Potsdam is stunned: Shouldn't protest be done with art rather than against it?


Masked members of Pussy Riot feminist punk group perform during their 'flashmob'-style protest inside Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior
Image: Mitya Aleshkovsky/TAR-TASS/dpa/picture alliance

There have always been radical acts like these. At the beginning of the 20th century, English women's rights activists, so-called suffragettes, destroyed works of art. Why is it always women who are in the front row in the fight for rights? Such as the activists of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot, who don’t even shy away from Russian president Putin?

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About the show

DW Arts Unveiled (Serienlogo Composite)

Arts Unveiled — Experiencing and understanding the art world

Arts Unveiled dives deep into the international creative scene, uncovering new ideas and explaining cultural phenomena that shape our history, present and future. Who are the artists? What are their greatest works of art? And how are they having an impact? Where can we find their exciting projects?