Two activists have vandalized a 130-year-old painting in response to oil and gas giant Woodside’s alleged destruction of Indigenous art.
SOLIDARITY I am so proud to give all my support @burruphuband to @joanapartyka for his demonstration at the AGWA last week. Jo is a long-time member of my office team and I am impressed by his courageous actions in bringing attention to the destruction of sacred Murujuga rock art. pic.twitter.com/BnOyjonSbL
— Senator Jordon Steele-John (@SenatorJordon) January 24, 2023
The stunt, however, drew criticism from Indigenous leader Warren Mundine who said, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”
In a video posted Jan. 19 by Disrupt Burrup Hub, ceramic artist Joana Partyka can be seen painting the Woodside Energy logo — using a stencil — onto Fredrick McCubbin’s “Down on His Luck,” which has been part of the Art Gallery of Western Australia since 1896.
Partyka then appeared to stick her hand to the wall next to the $3 million ($2.07 million) painting.
“Woodside likes to put their logo on everything while they spray their toxic emissions all over the sacred rock art,” she said.
“We must stop all industry on the Burrup, or soon there will be no more art.”
Fellow activist, Desmond Blurton, a man from Ballardong Noongar, placed an Aboriginal flag on the floor of the gallery in front of the colonial-era oil painting.
“This painting is barely 100 years old,” he said, pointing to McCubbin’s work.
“We have 50,000 year old works of art that Woodside is destroying. Cultural works of art that are sacred to our people are being destroyed.”
The Disrupt Burrup Hub asks Woodside to stop development on the Burrup Peninsula, located about 30 kilometers west of Karratha in the northwest Pilbara region, a mining-rich region of Western Australia.
Burrup contains thousands of Aboriginal petroglyphs.
The incident follows a series of similar stunts around the world, with climate change activists vandalizing famous works of art.
On October 27, 2022, a man apparently tried to stick his head to Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer’s ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ at the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague, the Netherlands, while another man stuck his own hand on the wall next to the painting.
The two Belgian protesters, who were wearing Just Stop Oil T-shirts during the incident, were both sentenced to two months in prison, according to ARTnews.
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Activist charged by police
In response to the vandalism, the Art Gallery of Western Australia said the painting was protected by an acrylic coating and would not be damaged.
The Gallery also confirmed that a protester stuck to the wall.
“The protester has been removed from the gallery, and the matter is now in the hands of WA Police,” the gallery said in a statement obtained by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
WA Police later confirmed that Partyka had been arrested and charged with criminal damage.
“A protester was inside the gallery, where it is believed she had damaged a painting and stuck her hand to a wall,” a police spokesperson said in comments obtained by the PAA.
“A second protester, who was in the company of the woman, left the gallery after being questioned by security and before the presence of the police.”
Woodside Energy meets its environmental record
Woodside Energy said it respects the rights of individuals to protest and highlighted its environmental credentials.
“Woodside has a proven track record of over 35 years of safe, reliable and sustainable operations in Murujuga, delivering natural gas to customers in WA and around the world,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
“Our environmental approach complies with all applicable environmental laws and regulations and is based on sound scientific decisions.”
The company added that peer-reviewed research has shown no impact on Murujuga rock art from emissions related to liquefied natural gas production.
Woodside is one of Australia’s largest independent energy companies and has operated the Karratha gasworks in Burrup for more than 30 years while holding a majority stake in the nearby Pluto gasworks, which is set to be expanded .
Indigenous leader Warren Mundine, who is also heavily involved in the arts, said the two individuals should have used the proper channels.
“If all you do is ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,’ then you end up with a lot of people without teeth or eyes. We have to live by the rule of law,” he said. he told The Epoch Times.
“There are laws regarding heritage and art, they should have done it. You can’t be vigilantes and destroy things.”
By Daniel Y.Teng
Daniel Y. Teng is based in Sydney. It focuses on national affairs, including federal politics, the response to COVID-19 and Australia-China relations.
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