Activists Gatecrash BP-Sponsored Exhibition at British Museum

They installed a protest work at the entrance to the show.

Art activist install protest artwork at the British Museum in London. Photo: Kristian Buus, Courtesy BP or not BP?
Art activist install protest artwork at the British Museum in London. Photo: Kristian Buus, Courtesy BP or not BP?

Despite a slew of recent victories, the campaign against BP’s sponsorship of the arts shows no signs of slowing down.

Yesterday, activists gate-crashed the press launch of the BP-sponsored exhibition “Sunken Cities – Egypt’s Lost Worlds” at London’s British Museum, and created a large-scale protest artwork at the entrance to the show.

The piece was made of materials including crude oil from the Gulf Coast, a teargas cartridge from Cairo’s Tahrir Square, and 340 lines of black stones, which, according to a release from the group BP or Not BP?, “symbolizes how BP’s operations in Egypt are ‘surrounded by human rights violations’.”

“The British Museum says this new exhibition will ‘tell stories of political power and popular belief, myth and migration,’ and it does,” Jess Worth, a member of BP or not BP? said, putting a critical spin on the museum’s statement.

“BP’s sponsorship is a story of gaining favour with repressive regimes, extracting fossil fuels and driving the rising sea levels that will cause people to flee sinking cities in the future. That story is already unfolding in Egypt. Meanwhile, the British Museum peddles the myth that BP is generous and ethical when it displays the company’s logos,” Worth added.

According to the release, the lines of stones in the artwork “represent the 340 people forcibly disappeared in the four months prior to BP signing a $12 billion dollar deal with the Sisi regime—a rehash of a deal it had made with the Mubarak regime.”

A protest against BP sponsorship at the British Museum last year. Courtesy of Niklas Halle'N/AFP/Getty Images.

A protest against BP sponsorship at the British Museum last year. Courtesy of Niklas Halle’N/AFP/Getty Images.

Yesterday’s intervention at the British Museum comes at a critical time when the institution faces a decision on whether or not to renew its 5-year deal with BP.

After ceaselessly campaigning for years, activists from the Art Not Oil Coalition—which includes the groups BP or not BP?, Platform, and Liberate Tate, among others—have enjoyed a number of successes recently, with Tate announcing in March that its 26-year sponsorship deal with BP will come to an end in 2017, followed by Edinburgh International Festival’s announcement that it would also drop the sponsorship.

Only last week, Tate was involved in a legal hearing in London over its refusal to reveal the exact amount of funding received from BP from 2006 onward.

A report titled “BP’s Cultural Sponsorship: A Corrupting Influence,” was recently published by Art Not Oil, revealing the extent to which BP has interfered in the running of the museums it sponsors.


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