London’s Victoria and Albert Museum was the target of a Greenpeace protest today, over German car company Volkswagon’s sponsorship of the exhibition “The Future Starts Here,” which had a press preview this morning and opens to the public May 12. In the museum courtyard, Greenpeace staged a “fringe exhibition” of their own, enlisting four female mechanics to take apart a Tornado Red VW Golf TDI diesel car, revealing its environmentally damaging innards.
The action was part of Greenpeace UK’s “Ditch Diesel” campaign, which currently has over 50,000 signatures on a petition calling on VW’s CEO to cease the production of diesel cars. In contrast to the V&A’s new show, Greenpeace titled their protest “The Future Doesn’t Start Here.”
“If we’re gonna have this clean tech future that this exhibition is all about, it needs to be with electric [cars],” said a Greenpeace activist named Rosie in a Facebook Live stream of the event.
“From smart appliances to satellites, artificial intelligence to internet culture, this exhibition will bring together more than 100 objects as a landscape of possibilities for the near future,” reads the promo text for the show, which blurs the lines between art, design, science, and technology.
Corporate sponsorship at major museums have become a flashpoint for controversy in recent years, with numerous protests against BP at museums including London’s National Portrait Gallery and Tate Museum. The latter ended its controversial relationship with the oil company in 2016.
Museums have also come under fire for accepting money from the Sackler family, who made their fortune by selling deadly opioids, and the Koch brothers, oil magnates who deny climate change. But in this instance, Greenpeace is making no calls for the V&A to back away from VW, which also sponsors the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Their primary goal is to get the car company to abandon diesel technology.
“This isn’t a criticism of the V&A. We love the V&A. We actually have some pieces of artwork in the V&A right now from Greenpeace,” said Rosie, noting that the removed car parts being placed displayed were being placed on pillows to make sure no grease or oil would dirty the museum courtyard.
“The V&A fully supports the public right to peaceful protest,” said the museum in a statement. “As a non-profit organization, we rely on self-generated income to maintain our major program of building and renovation projects, exhibitions, acquisitions and education. We are thankful for Volkswagen’s generous support of ‘The Future Starts Here.’”
The protest is aimed at phasing out all diesel cars—presently on track to be off the road by 2040, according to the government—as quickly as possible. Greenpeace is calling on VW to invest in electric cars, rather than old diesel technology.
“[The protestors] are taking apart this toxic diesel engine and showing the kind of filth and dirty toxicity that lies beneath its shiny exterior,” Rosie added, noting that they chose to work with female mechanics as “a kind of subversion of a very male-dominated car industry.”
VW is currently responsible for manufacturing a fifth of all diesel cars sold in the UK. The company’s CEO recently doubled down on the company commitment to diesel, telling audiences at the Geneva International Motor Show in March that “diesel will see a renaissance in the not-too-distant future… once the knowledge that diesels are eco-friendly firms up in people’s minds,” as reported by Bloomberg.
Greenpeace activist and mechanic Daisy Matthews-Mulroy wrote about her participation in the protest for the Huffington Post, decrying the air pollution caused by diesel cars, particularly in her home city of Bradford.
“VW say their diesels are clean, but testing shows otherwise. That’s why I spent hours taking one apart,” she wrote. “I wanted to remind people that under the shiny bonnet of VW’s latest promises lies the same old dirty diesel engine of old.”
Watch a Facebook live stream of the protest:
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