In Brief

Activists Strap Artist-Made Pollution Masks on London’s Statues

Greenpeace activists fit the Boudica statue at Westminster Bridge with an emergency face mask to demand action on air pollution (photo by John Cobb, all courtesy Greenpeace)
Greenpeace activists fit the Boudica statue at Westminster Bridge with an emergency face mask to demand action on air pollution (photo © John Cobb / Greenpeace)

From Buckingham Palace’s white marble Queen Victoria to the famous aluminum Eros in Piccadilly Circus, high-profile statues of historical and mythical figures across London have become central participants in an air pollution protest. Before sunrise, Greenpeace activists wearing vests emblazoned with the words “Statue Cleaning Team” spread across the city and scaled 18 public sculptures, covering their faces with giant air pollution masks to make visible the issue of lethal levels of toxic air. Other works involved include a bronze of Oliver Cromwell outside the House of Commons, the Winston Churchill on Parliament Square, the equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington at Hyde Park Corner, and the 170-foot-tall column in Trafalgar Square commemorating Admiral Lord Nelson.

An Achilles statue at Hyde Park with an emergency face mask (photo by Chris Ratcliffe) (click to enlarge)
An Achilles statue at Hyde Park with an emergency face mask (photo © Chris Ratcliffe / Greenpeace) (click to enlarge)

Artist Chris Kelly, who has previously collaborated with Greenpeace for other public actions, designed the line of wheat-based masks, customizing each one for its intended recipient. Eros’s had two hearts in the place of filtering canisters, for instance, while Churchill’s was adorned with a radio speaker and a bowler hat. At Arsenal Football Club’s Emirates Stadium, a bronze Thierry Henry received a mask with two soccer balls; meanwhile, an anchor and a steering wheel embellished Lord Nelson’s.

As the BBC reported, police have since arrested eight of the 30 activists involved for breaching security laws as well as for suspicion of criminal damage. Paul Morozzo, a member of the campaign, told the Guardian that the activists all took precautions to not damage any of the statues, noting that the gestures are not permanent. Since the arrests, city inspectors have been working to remove the masks.

Although reminiscent of recent demonstrations in Colombia — which left the faces of Fernando Botero sculptures shielded behind fabric masks — the Greenpeace effort is the result of a month of planning to urge UK politicians to enact change in a city where nearly 9,500 people die prematurely from long-term exposure to air pollution.

“At the moment, [Mayor] Boris Johnson has put forward a proposal for an ultra-low emission zone, but that only covers the area of the congestion zone, which is a very small area in central London,” Morozzo told Vice. “So we’re calling for a clean air zone to cover a much larger area of London to be brought in sooner than 2020. We’re saying at least by 2019, and we need it to be stricter, to protect the lungs of most Londoners — not just a few of them.”

The Greenpeace protest is the most recent creative response to the city’s smog levels. Last month, pigeons from the Pigeon Air Patrol flew across London to collect data on regional air pollution in another incredibly visible scene to stimulate public awareness of the issue and call for necessary legislative action.

Greenpeace activists fit a statue of Isaac Newton at The British Library with an emergency face mask (photo by John Cobb)
Greenpeace activists fit a statue of Isaac Newton at The British Library with an emergency face mask (photo © John Cobb / Greenpeace)
Greenpeace activists fit a statue of Isaac Newton at The British Library with an emergency face mask (photo by John Cobb)
Greenpeace activists fit a statue of Isaac Newton at The British Library with an emergency face mask (photo © John Cobb / Greenpeace)
Luke Jones of Greenpeace climbing Nelson’s Column at Trafalgar Square (photo by Jiri Rezac)
Luke Jones of Greenpeace climbing Nelson’s Column at Trafalgar Square (photo © Jiri Rezac / Greenpeace)
Greenpeace activists fit The Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace with an emergency face mask (photo by John Cobb)
Greenpeace activists fit The Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace with an emergency face mask (photo © John Cobb / Greenpeace)
Greenpeace activists fit the London Pride statue, outside The National Theatre, with an emergency face mask
Greenpeace activists fit the London Pride statue, outside The National Theatre, with an emergency face mask (photo © Greenpeace)
The Eros statue in Piccadilly Circus with an emergency face mask (photo by Chris Ratcliffe)
The Eros statue in Piccadilly Circus with an emergency face mask (photo © Chris Ratcliffe / Greenpeace)
Greenpeace activists climb Eros to fit the statue with an emergency face mask (photo © John Cobb / Greenpeace)
Greenpeace activists climb Eros to fit the statue with an emergency face mask (photo © John Cobb / Greenpeace)
Greenpeace activists fit the Oliver Cromwell’s statue with an emergency face mask to demand action on air pollution (photo © Chris Ratcliffe / Greenpeace)
Greenpeace activists fit the Oliver Cromwell’s statue with an emergency face mask to demand action on air pollution (photo © Chris Ratcliffe / Greenpeace)
A Greenpeace activist fits the statue of Churchill at Parliament Square with an emergency face mask (photo © Chris Ratcliffe / Greenpeace)
A Greenpeace activist fits the statue of Churchill at Parliament Square with an emergency face mask (photo © Chris Ratcliffe / Greenpeace)
Greenpeace activists fit the statue of Churchill at Parliament Square with an emergency face mask (photo © Chris Ratcliffe / Greenpeace)
Greenpeace activists fit the statue of Churchill at Parliament Square with an emergency face mask (photo © Chris Ratcliffe / Greenpeace)
Greenpeace activists fit the statue of Thierry Henry at Emirates Stadium with an emergency face mask to demand action on air pollution. Earlier this morning, a separate Greenpeace team eluded security and climbed over the fence around the Houses of Parliament to put another mask on Oliver Cromwell’s statue. Famous statues of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, Queen Victoria opposite Buckingham Palace, Eros at Piccadilly Circus and Nelson’s Column at Trafalgar Square, have also been given protection against London’s dirty air by environmental activists.
Greenpeace activists fit the statue of Thierry Henry at Emirates Stadium with an emergency face mask (photo © Greenpeace)
Greenpeace activists fit the statue of Thierry Henry at Emirates Stadium with an emergency face mask to demand action on air pollution. Earlier this morning, a separate Greenpeace team eluded security and climbed over the fence around the Houses of Parliament to put another mask on Oliver Cromwell’s statue. Famous statues of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, Queen Victoria opposite Buckingham Palace, Eros at Piccadilly Circus and Nelson’s Column at Trafalgar Square, have also been given protection against London’s dirty air by environmental activists.
The statue of Thierry Henry at Emirates Stadium with an emergency face mask (photo © Greenpeace)
The statue of Doctor Salter's Daughter with an emergency face mask
The statue of Doctor Salter’s Daughter with an emergency face mask (photo © Greenpeace)
Greenpeace activists fit the Young Dancer statue in Covent Garden with an emergency face mask to demand action on air pollution. Earlier this morning, a separate Greenpeace team eluded security and climbed over the fence around the Houses of Parliament to put another mask on Oliver Cromwell’s statue. Famous statues of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, Nelson’s Column above Trafalgar Square and Eros at Piccadilly Circus, have also been given protection against London’s dirty air by environmental activists.
A Greenpeace activist fits the Young Dancer statue in Covent Garden with an emergency face mask (photo © Harry Christelis / Greenpeace)
Greenpeace activists fit the Young Dancer statue in Covent Garden with an emergency face mask to demand action on air pollution. Earlier this morning, a separate Greenpeace team eluded security and climbed over the fence around the Houses of Parliament to put another mask on Oliver Cromwell’s statue. Famous statues of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, Nelson’s Column above Trafalgar Square and Eros at Piccadilly Circus, have also been given protection against London’s dirty air by environmental activists.
The Young Dancer statue in Covent Garden with an emergency face mask (photo © Harry Christelis / Greenpeace)
Greenpeace activists distribute leaflets during their protest (photo © Jiri Rezac / Greenpeace)
Greenpeace activists distribute leaflets during their protest (photo © Jiri Rezac / Greenpeace)
The view from Nelson’s Column (photo © Jiri Rezac / Greenpeace)
The view from Nelson’s Column (photo © Jiri Rezac / Greenpeace)
Two Greenpeace activists started climbing Nelson’s Column at 4am today to demand action on air pollution. Alison Garrigan (29) and Luke Jones (30) fit the statue of Admiral Lord Nelson, towering 52 metres above Trafalgar Square, with an emergency face mask. Earlier this morning, a separate Greenpeace team eluded security and climbed over the fence around the Houses of Parliament to put another mask on Oliver Cromwell’s statue. Famous statues of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, Queen Victoria opposite Buckingham Palace and Eros at Piccadilly Circus, have also been given protection against London’s dirty air by environmental activists.
Greenpeace activists climbing Nelson’s Column (photo © Jiri Rezac / Greenpeace)
comments (0)