Rome's Fontana della Barcaccia was dyed black in protest of the fossil fuel industry. (image courtesy Last Generation)

April 1 was no joke to Ultima Generazione (UG), a group of Italian climate activists who staged a joint demonstration in both Rome and Ancona that morning. Members of the group used a charcoal-based powder to dye the water of the Barcaccia Fountain in front of the Spanish Steps in central Rome a deep black color and covered the historic 13-spout Calamo Fountain in Ancona with a long banner emblazoned with the organization’s “We Don’t Pay for Fossil[s]” slogan.

Both demonstrations occurred within an hour of each other late Saturday morning, with UG citing the Italian right-wing government’s allegiance to fossil fuel projects through 2028 amidst the politics of water access along with increased flooding and drought incidents in recent years. In a press statement, UG said that staging the demonstrations at fountains was symbolic “of the refreshment offered by the water and, on the other, of the danger it can represent.”

The organization also cited Italy’s outdated water distribution infrastructure that was responsible for leaking over 40% of the water carried through its aqueducts in 2020, instilling fears over the privatization of water access that is exacerbated by the climate catastrophes. Ultima Generazione did not immediately respond to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.

Pope Urban VIII commissioned Pietro Bernini (father of Gian Lorenzo Bernini) to design and create the Barcaccia Fountain for the Spanish Steps in 1623. Bernini’s fountain design references a legendary flood from the Tiber River in 1598 that deposited a small boat in central Rome’s Spanish Square, a design that UG says foreshadows the “end of the world” scenario that Italy is heading towards. The Calamo Fountain in Ancona was incorporated into the city by architect Pellegrino Tibaldi in 1560, built with 13 spouts to welcome visitors into the city after long journeys.

“It is absurd that this gesture shocks you, when we are experiencing a drought emergency that is putting agriculture, energy production in crisis,” the organization said in a tweet showing the video of a protester blackening the water. “How can we accept that we continue to give money to those responsible for pollution and destructive weather?”

Police apprehended the activists minutes after the demonstrations began, forcing the three group members out of the charcoal-stained water of the Barcaccia Fountain and taking the information of protesters blockading the Calamo Fountain.

Roman Mayor Roberto Gualtieri denounced the incidents on Twitter, stating that throwing black dye into the water of the Barcaccia Fountain was “an absolutely wrong gesture that does not help the environment.”

“We share the battle but not this wrong way of carrying it forward,” Mayor Gualtieri’s Twitter thread continued. “Monuments must be respected because they belong to everyone.”

Ultima Generazione is best known for its activists gluing themselves to Sandro Botticelli’s “Primavera” (c. 1490) at the Uffizi Galleries in Florence last July and to the “Laocoön and His Sons” sculpture at the Vatican last August.

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...