Drama is afoot in the capital of North Dakota. The state is the site of both the famous Standing Rock protests of 2016 and some of the country’s greatest crude oil reserves. And it was going to be home to one amazing mural of 17-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg in Bismarck, North Dakota until a whole bunch of people got pissed off.
Shane Balkowitsch took beautiful portraits of Thunberg back in October 2019 when she was visiting members of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation during her trip to the U.S. Balkowitsch uses a specific method of photography: wet plate collodion. This is a complicated process that dates back more than 170 years and is a dying artform.
The artist had hoped to share the image—whose original plate now sits in the Library of Congress where Balkowitsch expects it to last for generations—on the wall of an alleyway in Bismarck. It was to be one of his most important pieces, he told Earther. A 7-foot tall mural was set to cover the wall of the Brick Oven Bakery, but when media covered the artist’s proposal, locals kinda bugged out.
Facebook commenters began attacking Thunberg and her activism against the fossil fuel industry, which has a long history in North Dakota. Some commenters noted they’d rather have someone from their state adorn the downtown wall, but others went as far as to promise to boycott or badmouth the bakery. Balkowitsch was not expecting this backlash, but some lunatics really fucking hate this teen, man. It’s pretty sad to see grown-ass adults bashing a teen who is, uh, literally fighting for the right to a livable future.
The state is the second biggest oil producer in the U.S. after Texas and is highly conservative. The fracking boom has brought a wave of jobs and man camps (which are a whole other problem) to North Dakota. Jobs are good, but continuing to frack the planet and mine for coal are a path to destruction. Thunberg has advocated for a just transition for both fossil fuel workers and indigenous and frontline communities impacted by the climate crisis, but that appears to have fallen on deaf ears in North Dakota.
“I know we’re in the middle of oil country, but I’m an artist here,” Balkowitsch told Earther. “This is where I’m from, so am I supposed to install my art somewhere else?”
Unfortunately, all this drama pushed the artist to withdraw his mural proposal. Instead, he’s looking to install it elsewhere. He’s heard interest from places in Fargo, North Dakota, and New York City, so there’s a chance that this mural may wind up living in a few places instead of just one.
That’s great, but what a loss for Bismarck’s residents. Thunberg is a symbol of the greater youth movement doing all it can to prevent total climate chaos. She’s done nothing except speak her mind and call out the industry and corporate shills who are knowingly destroying her (and our) future.
For that, she’s attacked by strangers online and a totally innocuous art installation has been canceled as a result. What a time to be alive.