The final day of the BP Portrait Awards exhibition at London’s National Portrait Gallery was interrupted by protesters from various campaign groups working together to highlight BP’s part in the exploitation and repression of frontline communities, especially in the Global South, as well as its role in the climate and ecological crisis.

The National Portrait Gallery flaunts its 30 year relationship with BP, but recently the RSC announced that it was ending its association with BP, and the National Gallery has also jettisoned Shell, so the reputational whitewashing that large oil companies gain from their meagre donations to the arts is under attack and fast disappearing.

The Portrait Awards ceremony was hampered by lock-ons back in June, and the following evening the Royal Opera House ‘BP Big Screens’ event was targeted by Extinction Rebellion.

Just last week, the BP headquarters received a visit from Vivienne Westwood and Free West Papua campaigners, highlighting the ongoing slow genocide and the deforestation of the world’s 2nd largest rainforest.

On Sunday, three young activists undressed and laid down on the floor of the main exhibition room while others poured ‘oil’ over their bodies. It was a nod to a 2011 action by Liberate Tate at Tate Britain on the first anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. In 2016, the Tate ended its partnership with BP.

The Portrait Gallery’s own Ethical Fundraising Policy states that “we have a responsibility to ensure donations are not accepted from questionable or inappropriate sources…in conflict with the objectives and values of the gallery”.

Maybe it’s time for the Portrait Gallery to join the growing list of arts establishments who no longer launder the image of BP and other oil companies.

The protest was supported by Extinction Rebellion, Culture Unstained, School Strikers, BP or not BP?, and XR Snowflakes.


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