“What is worth more, art or life?” asked one of two protesters who threw tomato soup at Vincent van Gogh‘s Sunflowers at the National Gallery in London, England, on Friday.
The young activists from Just Stop Oil, a U.K.-based climate campaign group, threw the canned soup over the painting, which is protected by glass, and glued their hands to the wall underneath the iconic artwork.
Phoebe Plummer, 21, and Anna Holland, 20, removed their jackets to reveal their “Just Stop Oil” T-shirts just before the protest, The Guardian reported.
Spectators in the room were audibly shocked by the display, with some in the gallery calling for security. As Holland held the empty can of soup in her hand, Plummer questioned if the van Gogh painting is “worth more than food? More than justice?”
“Are you more concerned about the protection of a painting or the protection of our planet and people?” Plummer asked.
“The cost-of-living crisis is part of the cost-of-oil crisis. Fuel is unaffordable to millions of cold, hungry families,” she continued. “They can’t even afford to heat a tin of soup.”
The protesters were quickly removed from the room by National Gallery staff.
Alex De Koning, a Just Stop Oil spokesperson, told the outlet that “young protesters are furious about the way the government is treating the climate crisis.”
De Koning claimed the U.K. government “should not be opening up 100 new fossil fuel licences.” In October, the U.K. defied recommendations from international climate scientists and made way for as many as 100 new licences to search for oil and gas in the North Sea.
When asked if Just Stop Oil may be alienating their supporters by targeting much-beloved artworks like van Gogh’s Sunflowers, De Koning replied, “This isn’t The X-Factor.”
“We’re not trying to make friends here. We are trying to make change, and unfortunately, this is the way that change happens,” he said.
It’s unlikely that Sunflowers was damaged in the protest as the artwork is safely encased in glass.
In July, Just Stop Oil protesters glued themselves to John Constable’s painting The Hay Wain at the National Gallery. They covered the painting from 1821 with a barren reimagining of the landscape.
Just Stop Oil protesters have also glued themselves to several other paintings this year, including van Gogh’s Peach Trees in Blossom, Thomson’s Aeolian Harp by JMW Turner and a copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper.