Issue #022 Published: 24-01-2019 // Written by: Faye Hahlo

Fossil Free Culture - 6 Months On

2018 saw a series of dramatic yet serene protests planned, directed and mobilised by Fossil Free Culture inside and around the Van Gogh Museum. The result was that the museum decided to drop Shell’s sponsorship.

We at Fossil Free Culture describe ourselves as a collective of artists, activists, researchers and critics working at the intersection of art and activism to bring an end to oil and gas sponsorship of public cultural institutions in the Netherlands.

Fossil Free Culture NL was inspired by the likes of Liberate Tate, a movement designed to persuade London’s Tate Modern to cut its ties with BP, and eventually emerged from a collaboration between activists and artists at the Climate Games, which followed 2015’s United Nations Climate Change Conference.

‘Artwashing’, the process of fossil fuel producing companies making themselves look good by dint of association with cultural centers, is a grey area, even for many environmentalists, as sponsorship of art is deemed a noble cause. However, we consider it a fundamental element to the environmentalist cause to erode the social license the fossil fuel industry seeks in order to continue its staus quo. It is crucial to eradicate art washing and all other image-sanitising strategies that fossil fuel companies use to promote a false image of their cultural and societal generosity.

Art-washing make us forget companies like Shell are responsible for the climate breakdown, and that they endanger all life support systems on our planet and violate human rights. Shell has ties throughout Dutch culture and institutions, including universities and schools, and the eradication or at least decreasion of this global power will partly rely upon the removal of their influencial grip on their home country.

Social respectability and acceptability are the elements that catastrophic corporations require in order to construct social licenses. If ties with different layers of society, including the cultural sector, are dismantled, Shell will lose its social license and will be stigmatised in the same way that the tobacco and arms industry have been.

We believe people are as moved by emotions and desires as by facts and rationale. Via Fossil Free Culture, art and activism merge into one practice and create affective experiences that activate and move people; hopefully inciting them to engage in the climate struggle. The climate crisis will continue to require artists to help people imagine other, possible worlds.

With 2019 around the corner, keep your eyes peeled for Fossil Free Culture’s next move. The group is now focused on expansion as they mobilise more people to support them and participate in actions. They are organising projects and events that will increase the public debate around the issue of artwashing, and will also launch the second part of their project in the beginning of 2019: engaging in disobedient performance art in a Shell sponsored cultural institution.

Visit their website and like their Facebook page to stay updated.

Photography: Laura Ponchel