Activists protested in front of Rembrandt's "The Night Watch" at the Rijksmuseum. (all photos courtesy Extinction Rebellion NL)

On Sunday afternoon, climate activism group Extinction Rebellion’s (XR) Netherlands branch used a Rembrandt painting as the springboard for a new demonstration approach at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. In lieu of splattering protected artworks with illicit liquids, XR printed a large banner depicting waist-deep floodwater in Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” (1642) in front of the original painting, commanding museum visitors to “rise up” faster than the sea.

Ten activists ages 15 to 22 were behind the demonstration that took place in front of the enormous restored Rembrandt painting situated behind a glass chamber. The Rijksmuseum’s “Operation Night Watch” research and restoration project debuted in 2021 with the intention of conserving the painting “for the future in the best way possible.” XR’s messaging flips the project on its head by saying “no art on a dead planet,” and urging the museum to cut ties with fossil fuel industry players such as its corporate partner Dutch airline KLM.

Activists urged museum visitors to “rise up” faster than the sea.

Last summer, environmentalists filed a lawsuit against KLM for “greenwashing,” pegging the airline’s “Fly Responsibly” and “CO2Zero” campaigns as intentionally misleading the public about its role in sustainability and offsetting carbon emissions through sustainable fuel and reforestation. The Rijksmuseum relies on KLM Cargo for international artwork shipping so that it can “make art accessible to as many people as possible,” the institution says.

“The science is clear, we can no longer escape it,” 19-year-old XR youth protester Yara said to museum visitors, according to the Dutch news outlet NL Times. “The Earth is warming, sea levels are rising and the weather is becoming more extreme. That this is due to the fossil fuel industry is abundantly clear, an industry through which the Rijksmuseum continues to be sponsored.”

The young activists had the support of their parents and grandparents who reportedly stood on the sidelines as the protest unfolded. After shouting their slogans, the protestors were escorted out of the museum without incident.

The Rijksmuseum has not yet responded to Hyperallergic‘s request for comment.

Rhea Nayyar (she/her) is a New York-based teaching artist who is passionate about elevating minority perspectives within the academic and editorial spheres of the art world. Rhea received her BFA in Visual...