A Street Artist’s Mural of Climate Activist Greta Thunberg Is Going Viral Because the Internet Thinks It Looks Like Vladimir Putin

Critics are mocking the artwork, but the artist is focusing on the message.  

A view of a new four-story-high mural of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg on November 11, 2019 in San Francisco, California. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

Look up on Mason Street in San Francisco this week and you might see Andres Iglesias, an Argentinian street artist who goes by the name of Cobre, finishing up his latest work: a 60-foot-tall mural depicting Swedish climate-change activist Greta Thunberg. As images of the monumental mural began to circulate online, however, it has gained viral traction for an unexpected reason: Iglesias’s interpretation of Greta Thunberg, some think, kind of looks like Vladimir Putin. 

It’s not just the steely expression. As Newsweek put it, “The comparisons between Thunberg and Putin were probably drawn as both individuals share the qualities of having wide jawbones and have the same intense blue eyes.”

Critics of the young climate change activist have seized on the comparison to ridicule her. The furor has grown loud enough that earlier today bombastic British TV host Piers Morgan, who has previously drawn fire for his mocking impression of Thunberg, joined in ridiculing the artwork, tweeting, “Why are they turning her into Putin?”  

The mix-up is ironic for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that Thunberg and Putin don’t exactly line up in terms of beliefs.

“I’m sure that Greta is a kind and very sincere girl,” the Russian leader said when the Swedish activist was invited to speak in front of Russia’s state parliament. “But adults must do everything not to bring teenagers and children into some extreme situations.” Thunberg responded by changing the bio on her Twitter page—which boasts over 3 million followers—to read, “A kind but poorly informed teenager.” 

Roughly a year ago, San-Francisco environmental non-profit One Atmosphere approached Iglesias after seeing his recent public painting of the late actor Robin Williams in the city. (The mural was demolished earlier this year.) It’s the first in what the organization hopes will be a series of public art projects devoted to climate change activists. 

Iglesias, who has also painted murals memorializing Nina Simone, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, and Frida Kahlo, is donating his time to the project, while One Atmosphere is paying for the paint. In the name of eliminating waste, the spray cans from the project will later be made into a sculpture. 

The artist is not letting online mockery distract from his message. “Climate change is real,” he told the SF Gate. “This girl Greta is awesome and she knows what she’s doing. I hope with this mural people will realize we have to take care of the world.”

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