Climate protests at the British Museum in London

As global temperatures and related climate controversies escalate, the art industry has begun to face criticism for their affiliations with large oil corporations.

Last weekend, activists staged a 51-hour performance intervention at the British Museum in London, calling on the establishment to cut ties with its longstanding corporate sponsor BP.

Claiming it to be the “largest protest” in the establishment’s history, activists have condemned director Hartwig Fischer for working with the oil and gas giant in an age of sustainability and eco awareness. Metaphoric imagery, such as the 13 foot tall Trojan horse smuggled into the museum’s entrance, was meant to represent oil giant BP’s infiltration of the art sphere.

The wooden sculpture was intended to directly critique the museum’s current BP-sponsored exhibition Troy: Myth or Reality (until 8 March). The lively event consisted of “BP must fall” song and the eccentric destruction of BP logo leaflets, which inspired morale. While hundreds of citizens attended the event, a dedicated 60 spent the night inside the museum’s Great Court. The remaining dozen proceeded to craft plaster casts of body parts, titling the live sculptural performance Monument (2020). An additional two activists stayed overnight inside the wooden horse, as the words “BP must fall” were projected onto the museum’s façade.

This event marked the theatrical activism group "BP or not BP?’s" 40th protest at the British Museum in the past 8 years. 

Institutions have faced criticism for working with the corporation for years now. Notably, Tate ended its 26 year relationship with BP in 2016. Activists have inspired the influential museum to also join Culture Declares Emergency, a network of artists, theatres and galleries calling for urgent action to immediately tackle climate change. In September 2019, the National Theatre swiftly ended its sponsorship deal with Shell after the Global Climate Strike in London targeted their partnership. In November 2019, National Galleries Scotland announced the discontinuation of their BP Portrait Award in solidarity with the movement.

However, the British Museum has failed to succumb to recent public pressure, and defended their economic beneficiary. In a statement, the institution’s director, Hartwig Fischer, said: “the museum is a public space where people can come to debate and we respect other people’s right to express their views. We share the concerns for the challenges that we all face together as a result of climate change. We address these issues in an innovative way through significant exhibitions and public programming. The British Museum offers for millions of people an extraordinary opportunity to engage with the cultures and histories of humankind. Without external support and sponsorship this would not be possible. Removing this opportunity from the public is not a contribution to solving the climate crisis.”

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Climate protests at the British Museum in London

Great Russell St, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 3DG, UK