An activist from the South Asia Solidarity Group spoke with one of the contributing artists at the special India-themed event at the museum on Wednesday. Amrit Wilson asked artist Chila Kumari Burman if she could add a small ‘Coal Out Of The Museum’ banner to her 75 Years of Indian Independence collage – a mass-participation artwork – which was part of the evening’s events at the museum.
Amrit also managed to confront Sir Ian Blatchford, the museum’s current director, who is a staunch defender of the museum’s association with the Adani coal corporation. He justifies sponsorship as a means to engage and challenge carbon-intensive companies, but all that activists have seen is a dramatic growth in fossil fuel sponsorship at the Science Museum Group, and Adani is actually increasing coal extraction in direct disregard of the climate science. Blatchford was showing Indian Deputy High Commissioner Sujit Ghosh around the event and by chance arrived at the collage at the moment Amrit was there.
Activists from a coalition of groups campaigning for a fossil-free Science Museum pre-booked more than a 1000 tickets for the evening, but then boycotted it. They held a protest at the entrance as visitors arrived, handing out leaflets and holding up mock ticket banners which explained what the boycott was about.
More than 125 artists, writers, actors and academics wrote an open letter to the artists contributing to the evening asking them to reconsider. The letter describes how Gautam Adani’s companies are continuing to mine billions of tonnes of coal in India, displacing Indigenous Adivasi people and causing massive environmental damage. Adani’s empire is inextricably linked with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is leading a Hindu-supremacist party which is accused of being fascistic and is blamed for lynchings and mob violence in the country.
Over the past year, pressure has been building over the Science Museum’s choice of sponsors. Last October, Professor Chris Rapley resigned from the museum’s Science Advisory Board, citing its fossil fuel sponsorship policy. A few weeks later, two Trustees resigned their posts over Adani sponsorship – TV presenter Dr Hannah Fry, and Director of the Institute for Research in Schools, Dr Jo Foster.
In January Real Media reported on a protest when an advertising van parked up outside the museum and played films by Indigenous groups showing the destruction Adani has caused in India, Indonesia and Australia. This was just one of numerous protests at the museum including an overnight occupation by young people from the UK Student Climate Network.
In April the museum had to cancel a panel discussion event after contributors pulled out in protest. Almost 500 teachers have signed an open letter to the Trustees asking them to reconsider Adani sponsorship, calling out the idea that Adani Green Energy is anything other than a greenwashing front for the coal corporation, and threatening to boycott the Energy Revolution Gallery which is due to open next year sponsored by fossil fuel companies.
Despite the pressure and scientific evidence, it’s clear from Sir Ian Blatchford’s comments when confronted by activist Amrit Wilson last week that he is still doubling down on the idea that by accepting fossil fuel sponsorship from multi-billionaire Gautam Adani, it enables the museum to engage, debate and challenge the company.
Last year, Culture Unstained revealed that far from engaging and challenging, the Museum’s Director Ian Blackford was busy writing to Shell to praise their net-zero efforts as “a clear and thoughtful strategy” which will “create a strong pathway to towards the goal of net-zero”. Meanwhile the museum and its trustees are bound by a gagging clause “not to make any statement or issue any publicity…that may be seen as discrediting or damaging the goodwill or reputation of the Sponsor”.
Do we believe the museum is “engaging and challenging” its super-rich sponsor, or is it simply prostituting its academic impartiality and greenwash the activities of a man who is committing ecocide in several countries around the globe and who financially supports a fascistic leader in India?