An escalation in the activities of climate protestors manifested itself at the National Gallery of Canada when a protester, from the group On2Ottawa, vandalized a work of art by Tom Thomson as part of a campaign demanding a national firefighting service. The targeted piece was the widely appreciated 1914-15 painting, “Northern River.”
On2Ottawa, which has a history of traffic obstruction in Ottawa, was clearly visible in an Instagram footage, showing one of their members forcefully smearing pink paint over the protective glass encasing the esteemed oil on canvas masterpiece before committing to a stationary protest by gluing himself to the gallery floor.
However, the National Gallery of Canada breathed a sigh of relief confirming that the artwork emerged unscathed. Their statement elucidated that “an unknown individual attempted to deface Tom Thompson’s Northern River, 1915, but luckily, the artwork was untouched. Thanks to immediate security measures, the Ottawa Police Service apprehended the offender promptly.”
On2Ottawa is vehement in their demand for a national firefighting agency, comprising 50,000 members, to combat the escalating forest fire predicaments in Canada, particularly in light of the intense wildfire season which incredibly, saw over 15 million hectares of land reduced to ashes, and countless evacuations.
Kaleb Suedfeld, post his defiant act of splashing paint on the painting, questioned the priorities of the society, wondering which was more significant: the landscapes portrayed in the artwork or the actual landscapes themselves. He lamented the governments’ submissiveness to the desires of the fossil fuel industry. The group reaffirmed their commitment to non-violent civil disobedience and vowed to continue their protests.
This art-attacking episode is not the first for the group, as they recall a similar event when a female protester stormed naked on stage at the Juno Awards, subsequently vandalizing the Prime Minister’s Office in Ottawa with paint before being detained. Up till now, 11 members of the group have been arrested and are facing 34 charges.
Kaleb Suedfeld is expected to face a mischief charge for his deeds in the National Gallery, with additional charges likely to be imposed. The National Gallery of Canada has pledged its cooperation with the police.
Calls for the formation of a national firefighting agency have been rampant, primarily due to the healthcare crisis and the escalating need for relief from foreign firefighting service personnel as Canada battles the wildfire crisis.
Echoes of such art attacks by climate protestors have been observed worldwide, with protestors resorting to defacing artwork to raise awareness for their causes. Instances include the targeting of Vincent van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” and an unsuccessful attempt to deface Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”. Meanwhile, the iconic painting by Tom Thomson continues to grace the walls of the National Gallery of Canada.