What Does the Caking of the Mona Lisa Tell Us About Climate Change

And 3 other times art was taken hostage

People can, and probably should, argue that there’s not much that records human civilisation better than art and culture. Usually seen as blueprints of any given era, the world’s entire history can be revisited through pieces of age-old works, and artistic representations from a specific time and age. 

By this measure, it’s safe to say that you’ll find most things in museums to be incredibly valuable. So what would push anyone to degrade any relic or antique? In our opinion, desperation.

Last weekend, a man dressed as a lady in a wheelchair, paid the world’s largest museum an opinionated visit by smudging the Mona Lisa with cake. According to the Louvre’s statement, the perpetrator managed to get near the portrait by faking a handicap. This allowed him to take advantage of a policy meant to let those with mobility issues see prized commodities up closer. And it worked, as visitors were left stunned after the self-claimed climate-change activist smeared dessert on Leonardo DaVinci’s inestimable painting. The young man was quickly tackled to the ground by onsite security forces and, luckily enough, the canvas was left unharmed as protected by a sheet of bulletproof glass.

On his way out, video footage shows the young man screaming “Think of the Earth. There are people who are destroying the Earth. Think about it. Artists tell you, think of the Earth. That’s why I did this”, all the while scattering roses in the Parisian gallery whilst being escorted out by security.

As people tend to say, violence is the language of the unheard and the above-mentioned stunt falls right into that exact same box. Truth is, if people are willing to damage pieces of art, they surely must be on their last resort. The planet’s wellbeing, unarguably, a global concern that needs collective attention, is past the stage of being brushed aside or neglected. Given the urgency of the situation, and the international community’s deafening silence regarding the matter, we can understand, and still condone, the young man’s devious behaviour. 

The headline-grabbing event, a spectacle as it is, is not isolated. Throughout history, we have found the deformation of art quickly turns into a straightforward method of protest and outcry. Each case is different, yes, but let’s further investigate other times that art has been manipulated to be defaced in the name of revolt and anger.

King Leopold Statue

In 2004, the activist group De Stoete Ostendenoare symbolically chopped off a bronze hand from one of the kneeling Congolese men in the statue. The statue itself is said to honour King Leopold II. However, a quick history lesson would reveal the true horrors of his colonial rule over Congo where he would brutally assert his power by cutting the hands of any person disagreeing with his exploitative authority.

The group later offered to return the hand providing that the statue was removed, this offer was denied by the Belgian governement, however in 2011. 

Banksy’s Self-Shredding Painting

Controversial by his very own standards, it’s not surprising to see Banksy be listed down here. The anonymous street artist is known for making extensive use of art as a tool to demonstrate against governments of all sorts and causes of all kinds. 

Rewind back to 2018 when one of his most coveted works, “Girl with Balloon”, was up for auction at Sotheby’s house in London. Sold at a daunting $1.4 Million, once the sale was confirmed, an alarm went off triggering the frame to shred the lower half of the picture and leaving its upper part completely intact.

Although never confirmed by the artist himself, it is believed that the self-destructing picture is an abstract critique of our capitalist society, its morals and stands as another anti-establishment message emanating from Bansky. 

Serve and Protect

During the BLM protests in Salt Lake City, Utah, the public artwork had its purpose completely transformed. “Serve and Protect” is a large bronze sculpture made by Gregory Ragland depicting two hands side-by-side with their palms facing upward, demonstrating the word ‘to serve’, in sign language – a sculpture that was intended to praise the work of the city’s police forces.

However, paint was added in order to change the initial meaning of the monument. The bright red coating the grand-scale piece of art sought to point at the uncountable amount of police brutality taking place in the USA, making it loud and clear that police have blood on their hands.

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