Organisers of a mass creative protest against BP’s sponsorship of the British Museum on Saturday, 8 February 2020 have revealed that over 1,200 people have pledged to take part.
BP or not BP?, the activist theatre group behind the performance protest, are keeping the full details under wraps but have promised 'creative actions for all ages' and have successfully crowdfunded to bring a Trojan Horse to the museum in a direct response to its current BP-sponsored exhibition, Troy: Myth and Reality.
Pressure has been mounting on the British Museum after several leading cultural organisations, citing the climate emergency, cut their ties with oil companies last year, including the Royal Shakespeare Company, National Theatre, National Galleries Scotland and Edinburgh Science Festival.
This month, the Natural History Museum confirmed it no longer had ties to its former partners BP and Shell and is putting climate change at the heart of its 10-year strategy, leaving the British Museum looking increasingly isolated and out of step with the wider sector.
Participants in what will be the biggest protest in the museum’s 260 year history are being invited to register online so they can be sent the details of when to arrive, what to bring and what to wear.
While the exact nature of the protest performance will be revealed on the day, the group have announced that they have a range of speakers representing communities around the world who are on the frontlines of colonialism, fossil fuel extraction, climate change and repression.
Together, they plan to ‘reimagine the museum’. The group has also published a statement online highlighting how their protest will 'put pressure on the Director, Chairman and Board of the British Museum, demanding that they show the climate leadership that staff, visitors and others are demanding'.
The protest will be 'respectful of Museum visitors and staff' and 'rooted in solidarity'.
The controversy around promotional relationships with the fossil fuel industry continues to make headlines. Just this week, the Guardian announced it would no longer take advertising from the fossil fuel industry, saying ‘Fossil fuel extractors are qualitatively different. The intent - and extent - of their lobbying efforts has explicitly harmed the environmental cause.’
Sarah Horne, a member of BP or not BP? said: ‘After 7 years and 39 actions at the museum, we can’t wait any longer: Indonesia is flooded, Australia is on fire and yet BP is investing in more oil and more gas.
'Meanwhile, it is using its sponsorship of the arts as a Trojan Horse to try and hide the destructive reality of its business. Our protest is a bold and necessary escalation in this campaign.
'It’s shameful that even now, in the midst of a climate emergency, the British Museum is lending legitimacy to BP when it could follow the lead of the RSC and National Galleries Scotland, and help create a culture beyond fossil fuels.’
The museum is facing specific criticism for attaching a BP logo to a Troy exhibition, when BP has recently completed a controversial gas pipeline that runs just 75 miles from the modern-day site of Troy in Turkey.
The pipeline runs about 75 miles from the site of ancient Troy, and is part of a complex of pipelines called the Southern Gas Corridor, intended to bring fossil gas from Azerbaijan to Europe.
The final part – the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) from Turkey via Greece and Albania to Italy – is still under construction, and has faced serious protests along its route.
When a previous BP pipeline (the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline) was built in this region from 2003 – 2005, there was an organised international campaign linked up with activists on the ground to oppose it.
People in Turkey were especially concerned about militarisation and land grabs along the route of the pipeline where it came into North East Turkey.
However, the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline has not experienced similar protest on its route through Turkey. Campaigners believe this is because of the anti-protest crackdowns of the repressive government of Turkish President Erdoğan, which has made people too scared to speak up this time.
This means that BP is, once again, benefiting from a relationship with a repressive regime that is silencing protest and thus making it easier for BP to build its destructive and polluting projects.
The Southern Gas Corridor, if completed, could lock Europe into increased fossil gas use for decades to come.
Zozan Yaşar, a Kurdish journalist and activist, said: ‘In many countries people are starting to protest about climate change, to imagine a different future and to change things.
'But in Turkey, the situation is politically very different – it’s hard to speak out and these kinds of protests have been banned. Oil and gas projects like BP’s pipelines have cost many lives, but because of the sanctions placed on freedom of speech, few people are aware of this.
'By partnering with the Turkish government on gas pipelines, BP is helping to maintain this situation and is profiting from the silencing of protest.'
This escalation in the campaign against oil sponsorship of culture comes as BP’s new CEO is attempting to counter accusations of inaction and deflection on climate change. According to Sarah Horne from BP or not BP?: ‘The growing movement against the fossil fuel industry - and BP in particular - has put the oil giant on the back foot, forcing the CEO to talk about climate change from day one in the job.
'We’re expecting some announcements from BP that may sound good, but that won’t change its underlying plan to keep expanding its fossil fuel extraction projects. Unless BP ditches all new exploration for oil and gas and starts leaving existing reserves in the ground, it will remain on a collision course with the climate.’
Marianne Brooker is The Ecologist's content editor. This article is based on a press release from BP or not BP.
The 8 February protest has been named ‘BP Must Fall!’ by the group, taking inspiration from the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ campaign for the removal of colonial monuments in South Africa, as well as the group ‘Shell Must Fall’ in the Netherlands.
BP or not BP? is a member of the Art Not Oil Coalition.
Image: Diana More.