The protest group BP or not BP? (a collective of artists, activists, performers and frontline communities) have been invading stages and cultural spaces for eight years, highlighting the ethical issues around corporate sponsorship and questioning the partnerships that national cultural institutions have forged with huge oil companies at a time of increasing awareness of climate crisis.
The group, which began its campaigns focussing on the Royal Shakespeare Company, has been part of the Art Not Oil Coalition along with Liberate Tate, research group Platform, Culture Unstained, the PCS Union and others, and together they have achieved notable successes, with the RSC announcing the end of their deal with BP just 2 years into a 5-year contract, following both the Tate and the Edinburgh International Festival also dropping BP in 2016. Art Not Oil have also had success against Shell. The corporation has been dropped from Wildlife Photographer of the Year, the South Bank Centre and the Science Museum. Scotland’s National Portrait Gallery has also dropped its Portrait Awards association with BP, specifically citing the climate emergency.
BP sponsors individual exhibitions at the British Museum, gaining much free publicity and goodwill despite campaigners claiming that they contribute less than 0.5% of the museum’s budget. It is here that BP or not BP? have recently staged their most ambitious and challenging protest to date – effectively three days of occupation involving around 1500 people!
In the early hours of Friday 7th Feb, activists broke into the museum courtyard via a side gate, and deposited a massive Trojan Horse in front of the main steps of the building. Police and security were told that the horse contained protesters who were locked on and willing to stay overnight, and so when supporters began arriving on Saturday morning for the huge day of action, the 14-foot horse was still there in all its glory. A welcoming crew handed out 8 different timetables to the hundreds of people who attended the BP Must Fall protest, so that they were evenly distributed across repeated talks, workshops and pop-up events which took place throughout the afternoon.
Then at 4pm they came together en masse in the iconic Great Court, and at the climax of a song they had all learnt, they held BP logos above their heads and tore them into pieces.
But the protest was far from over, as an area was set aside to create a new exhibition at the museum, and activists began creating plaster casts of hands, feet, faces, and other body parts representing the many figures that make up the climate justice movement, and offering an alternative statue to the huge collection of colonial statues throughout the museum.
Museum security requested that the group leave, and they closed down access to bathroom facilities, but the protesters had smuggled the constituents of a compost toilet in with them, and once this was built, and food and drink shared, it was clear that only a large police operation would remove them.
So around 40 people stayed overnight in the Great Court, and by morning the plaster cast artwork named Monument, was ready for public view as the building opened once more.
In all, the weekend #BPMustFall protest lasted more than 50 hours, and was seen by tens of thousands of museum visitors. Among the groups taking part were representatives from frontline communities such as Senegal, Kurdistan, Turkey, Nigeria, and West Papua.
Real Media has already released a short film of the event, but we hope you take the time to watch this longer account of the weekend now.
More info at BP or not BP?