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5 Times activists disrupted global culture venues

BY Tim Ellis

3rd Nov 2022 Life

5 Times activists disrupted global culture venues

As Just Stop Oil activists target culture hotspots around the world, we look back on other times protestors have used art and culture to make their point

Barely a week goes by without another protest by activist groups on matters relating to the planet. While supermarkets and famous department stores have been targeted recently, organised objections have also touched many cultural parts of the globe.

Here are five examples of how protest pricked the world’s conscience.

1. Venice activists all at sea as cruise ships return post-COVID

No Grandi Navi flag flown from dinghy boat protesting in Venice's lagoonCredit: Annette DuboisCC BY-NC 2.0. Protestors took to the water in Venice to protest cruise ships' impact on the lagoon's fragile ecosystem

When Italy started to return to some level of travel activity after coronavirus restrictions were lifted in May, 2021, it signalled the return of cruise ships docking in the historic port of Venice.

Anti-cruise protestors, No Grandi Navi (No Big Ships), claimed that the government had not followed through on a decree that ships "as tall as apartment buildings" would be banned from arriving in the city centre

As the 92,409 ton MSC Orchestra exited the waters, those in the environmental camp echoed concerns about the sustainability of the fragile lagoon and the impact such huge vessels could have on the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Si Grandi Navi, a counterprotest group, were determined not to be blown out of the water. They pointed out that thousands in the region had lost jobs, especially as the ship terminal employed many people in the cruise ship industry before the pandemic hit.

Ultimately, vessels weighing more than 25,000 tonnes were banned in August 2021.

2. Greenpeace steps beyond the sacred line

Greenpeace paint words Credit: A.DaveyCC BY-NC-ND 2.0. The Peru population felt that Greenpeace crossed a line when they trespassed on sacred land

Greenpeace was forced to apologise to the population of Peru after a publicity stunt broached the historical territory of the Nazca Lines, a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The activists broke into the high-security terrain in December 2014, a site that has indented images of plants and animals excavated from the soil, including a giant hummingbird that existed almost 1,500 years ago.

"Greenpeace was forced to apologise to the population of Peru"

They placed giant yellow letters designed to be seen from altitude, declaring, "Time for change! The future is renewable. Greenpeace." No-one is allowed to trek along those revered lines, so the effect would easily be seen from the air.

The group claimed the message was intended for leaders at the United Nations climate talks in Lima, but admitted its actions had come across as "careless and crass."

Deputy Culture Minister Luis Jaime Castillo blasted: "It is a true slap in the face at everything Peruvians consider sacred."

3. Art activists at war over Holocaust rememberance

Zentrum für Politische Schönheit (Centre for Political Beauty) is a German art movement that believes "Resistance is an art that needs to hurt, irritate, and unsettle."

They followed that mantra in December 2019 after installing a two-and-a-half metre monument next to the Reichstag in Berlin, claiming it contained remains of Jewish victims of Nazi persecution across Germany, Poland and Ukraine.

"Eliyah Havemann declared, 'No one should make art and politics with ashes of Holocaust victims'"

The monument was intended as a warning to Angela Merkel’s CDU Party to disassociate from any potential collusion with the far-right AfD Group.

There was subsequent outrage from many organisations and victims' relatives, with the International Auschwitz Committee considering it "disrespectful" to those at eternal rest.

Another group, the Performance Art Committee, tried to take down the steel column with a sledgehammer just weeks later. Their leader, Eliyah Havemann declared, "No one should make art and politics with ashes of Holocaust victims."

4. Extinction Rebellion enter the forbidden bath

Swimming in the historical Roman Baths of Bristol is forbidden, but that did not stop members of the Extinction Rebellion taking to the water dressed in white and carrying a symbolic white rose in May, 2019.

Hamish Evans, a member of the group, pronounced: "This action today symbolised the urgency of the ecological crisis whilst also bringing up the looming issues of water shortages, pollution and loss of water sovereignty." 

Swimmers used to bathe annually at the site until 1978 when a girl died of suspected meningitis. The protestors were warned that the water was untreated but still pushed ahead with their floating demonstration.

5. Pussy Riot interrupt Putin's World Cup of glory

Vladimir Putin proudly oversaw the 2018 World Cup final at Moscow's impressive Luzhniki Stadium in 2018 alongside FIFA and the International Olympic Committee’s most powerful VIPs.

However, the match between France and Croatia was briefly interrupted by a pitch invasion from the feminist and performance art group Pussy Riot.

The activists had come to prominence in 2012 when they performed their punk rock music inside Russia’s flagship symbol of the Orthodox Church, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.

"A Pussy Riot statement called on Russia to free all political prisoners"

This time, three of the troupe made it onto the pitch. One member, Nika Nikulshina, even gave a high five to French superstar striker Kylian Mbappé.

A Pussy Riot statement called on Russia to free all political prisoners, stop “illegal” arrests at public rallies, allow “political competition” and stop “fabricating criminal cases."

The protesters were sentenced to 15 days in jail and banned from attending sports events for three years. Who knows whether they had planned to disrupt the 2022 Champions League final in Saint Petersburg? It was moved to Paris by UEFA after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Banner image credit: Just Stop Oil

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