The private VIP launch reception for the latest BP-sponsored exhibition Troy: myth and reality was targeted by protesters at the British Museum on Tuesday.
As the museum closed for the day, ‘actor-vists’ from performance protest group BP or not BP? blocked the five main entrances to the exhibition gallery and over a period of more than an hour, despite being requested to leave by security, they created five living statues with full costume and body paint, portraying Zeus, Athena, Achilles, Venus, and their own creation, an oily ‘Petroleus’ sporting the BP logo on his shield.
One of the campaigners, Zoe Lafferty, is a theatre director who had worked on an adaptation of Euripedes’ Trojan Women, the ‘Queens of Syria’, created by thirteen Syrian refugee women and performed at The Old Vic before touring the UK. A film of the performance forms part of the British Museum’s exhibition, and Zoe has written an open letter, along with one of the cast, Reem Alsayyah, expressing their concern that the piece has ended up being publicly displayed next to BP logos. In the letter they say that BP has taken decisions that undoubtedly contribute to conflict, refugee crises, and the worsening climate emergency. Reem was born in Syria in 1991 when the Gulf War was raging, so for her the role of BP in flaming conflict and displacement is intensely personal.
Museum officials quickly re-organised the evening’s reception bringing guests in through the gift shop and then via a rear entrance to the exhibition. One of the guests, broadcaster and British Museum trustee Muriel Gray, spoke with the protesters and offered some words of support.
Loud singing by the campaigners was heard by the audience in the official reception. At the end of the intervention, as guests began to leave, the statues moved to the main front entrance and ‘Petroleus’ poured oil over the others before collapsing to the ground.
Despite years of protests, the British Museum is holding out in its continued sponsorship arrangement with BP, even though the financial contribution amounts to less than 1% of the museum’s budget.
The tide is turning and many cultural institutions are dropping fossil-fuel connections in much the same way that tobacco sponsorship fell in previous times. The Royal Shakespeare Company cut its ties mid-contract in a dramatic announcement last month, and the National Galleries of Scotland will no longer be hosting the BP Portrait Awards. The Edinburgh Science festival and National Theatre have also cut ties with oil companies this year. Earlier this year a museum trustee, Ashdaf Soueif, resigned from the board over its association with BP, but current director Hartwig Fischer still sticks to the line that the money lets the museum put on major exhibitions and that ending the partnership won’t help solve the climate challenge problem.
This article was originally posted on 22nd November