Performance fills museum with sounds of dissent against BP sponsorship and disrupts speeches at VIP exhibition launch
Campaigners highlight irony of a fossil fuel company sponsoring a ‘Sunken Cities’ exhibition
Second creative protest of the day, after a disobedient artwork obstructed the morning press launch
Journalist at VIP launch reports guests ‘cringing’ during BP speech and ‘discussing protest with a lot of sympathy’
A group of ten performers occupied the Great Court of the British Museum yesterday, from just before closing time at 5.30pm until after guests arrived for the VIP launch of a new BP-sponsored exhibition, ‘Sunken Cities – Egypt’s Lost Worlds’. The performers remained in the space until after 7pm, despite the museum being officially closed.
The performance involved reading out a list of cities likely to be lost to the ocean if oil companies like BP continue to extract fossil fuels in line with their current business plans. The chronological list included Alexandria, New Orleans, Mumbai and Lagos. As each city was named, the performers – from theatrical action group ‘BP or not BP?’ – were drenched in water by a ‘BP’ character, and chanted: ‘We do not accept BP’s vision of the future.’
Performers in the museum spent two hours being repeatedly drenched with water. Photo by LXPX.
The reception guests – which included representatives from BP and the Egyptian government as well as ambassadors from Greece and Italy – were diverted away from the protest by British Museum staff. To counter this, the campaigners moved their performance to a room close to the reception, and increased the volume with singing, chanting and drumming a beat on wooden doors. According to the Evening Standard, the sound disrupted the speeches.
The performance got started just as the musem was starting to close for the day.
The performance concluded at 7.10pm with the ‘BP’ character pouring water over his own head to represent the projected climate-change-driven flooding of London in 2060.
Meanwhile, guests inside the reception were apparently ‘cringing’ at a BP executive’s ‘nauseating speech’ claiming ‘We both share an interest in sunken treasures’, according to journalist Jack Shenker, who was there. He shared a photo of a panel about BP in the ‘fascinating and beautiful’ exhibition, railing against the fact that ‘BP can hijack & commodify that work & adorn it with crap like this.’ He later told us ‘plenty of the guests were discussing protest (& with a lot of sympathy)’.
Controversy around BP’s arts sponsorship has been escalating after Art Not Oil published a damning report earlier this month, exposing BP’s ‘corrupting influence’ over the museums it sponsors. The evening’s action followed a creative protest at the exhibition’s press launch that morning, when the same group created a large-scale art work at the exhibition’s entrance. Formed of crude oil from the Gulf Coast, a teargas cartridge from Cairo’s Tahrir Square and 340 black stones, the art piece symbolised how BP’s operations in Egypt are ‘surrounded’ by human rights violations.
A performer creates the artwork made from hundreds of black stones outside the Sunken Cities press launch. Photo Kristian Buus
Jess Worth, a member of ‘BP or not BP?’ said:
‘For BP the mega-polluter to sponsor an exhibition called ‘Sunken Cities’ is beyond parody. But there’s an even more sinister partnership underpinning today’s launch. BP has done deals with the last three repressive Egyptian governments to get access to massive oil and gas resources, crushing local opposition. For BP and Egypt, “Sunken Cities” is an extension of this brutal business relationship, facilitated by the British Museum. The museum will continue to be complicit in BP’s carbon-intensive, rights-abusing business activities until it ends its sponsorship deal with the oil giant.’
Today’s double intervention is part of an escalation in protest around BP’s sponsorship of the British Museum just as it is deciding whether to renew its 5-year deal with the oil giant. It was announced in March that after 26-years BP’s sponsorship of Tate would come to an end. It was followed by the news just weeks later that after 34 years, BP would no longer be a sponsor of Edinburgh International Festival.
The British Museum’s new director, Hartwig Fischer, was welcomed on his first day with a letter from almost 100 cultural and political figures calling on him to drop BP sponsorship.
The ‘BP’ character waits until he can announce another sunken city.
Year of loss City
2016 Nuatambu Island, Solomon Islands
2020 Male, Maldives
2025 Amsterdam, Netherlands
2035 New Orleans, USA
2040 Alexandria, Egypt
2045 Mumbai, India
2050 Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
2055 Lagos, Nigeria
2056 Cairns, Australia
2057 Shenzen, China
2058 Buenos Aires, Argentina
2059 Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
2060 London, United Kingdom
‘The British Museum says this new exhibition will “tell stories of political power and popular belief, myth and migration” – and it does. BP’s sponsorship is a story of gaining favour with repressive regimes, extracting fossil fuels and driving the rising sea levels that will cause people to flee sinking cities in the future. That story is already unfolding in Egypt. Meanwhile, the British Museum peddles the myth that BP is generous and ethical when it displays the company’s logos.’
‘BP or not BP?’ is an activist theatre group that has organised theatrical protests and creative interventions at a range of oil-sponsored institutions. It successfully campaigned for the end of BP’s sponsorship of plays at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2012 and, alongside others, the end of BP’s sponsorship of the Edinburgh International Festival. It is part of the Art Not Oil coalition alongside groups such as Platform, Liberate Tate and Rising Tide UK.
As BP sponsors Sunken Cities at the British Museum, its links with Egypt come into the spotlight
BP has huge investments in Egypt and is partnering with the repressive Sisi regime
The current military government put down local opposition to a BP project, which is now going ahead
Egypt’s own cities are sinking: Egypt is one of the world’s five most vulnerable countries to climate change, but BP continues to pump out greenhouse gas emissions
Residents of Idku march in opposition to the expansion of BP’s operations. Photo: Mika Minio-Paluello
Egypt’s cities are sinking but BP and the Egyptian government keep making deals
Egypt is one of the five most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change, with two of its four most populated cities – Alexandria and Port Said – in danger of sinking due to sea-level rise in the near future. Yet the Egyptian government and BP keep doing deals that will increase greenhouse gas emissions. Egypt could see 30 percent of the Nile Delta – home to half its citizens – become submerged in just the next 15 years. The Nile Delta is also where BP’s operations are focused.
Egypt and BP clearly both see the Sunken Cities exhibition as an extension of their long-standing business partnership, and a way of improving both of their less-than-gleaming reputations internationally. BP’s press release for Sunken Cities includes this quote, from Nasser Kamel, Egyptian Ambassador to the UK:
As well as looking for partners to invest in the Egyptian economy, Egypt is always searching for partners to help in exploring its heritage and treasures which are still hidden under its lands, and waters. This exhibition shows that despite what we know of its tremendous history and culture, Egypt still has a lot more to offer tothe world and we thank our partners in the UK, such as BP, for working with us in utilizing our resources to develop our economy and through such an exhibition unraveling our history as well. I invite the people of Britain to visit this exhibition to get a glimpse of what Egypt has to offer, and come to Egypt to live that experience.
BP’s business operations in Egypt
BP is the largest foreign investor in Egypt, where it has operated for 50 years. The company currently produces almost 15% of Egypt’s oil and close to 30% of its gas, and is in the process of dramatically expanding its fossil fuel exploration and production. Egypt was one of only four countries highlighted in BP’s most recent annual report as the location of ‘new potential resources‘ the oil giant gained access to in 2015. BP is enthusiastically taking advantage of what it calls ‘the new phase of Egypt’s hydrocarbon industry and the development of a world-scale gas business in the offshore Nile Delta’. This began in 2008 when it went into business with the Egyptian government through a partnership called the Pharaonic Petroleum Company. On its website, BP claims that this joint venture ‘is designed to be an efficient and effective vehicle for our gas production growth plans in this area.’
BP’s complicity in repression in Egypt
BP’s long involvement in Egypt has included political manipulation and support for the repression of dissent. The company was a staunch supporter of the brutal Mubarak regime before the revolution. In 2012, BP was sponsoring a business lobby organisation that enthusiastically welcomed the use of executions and force to crack down on protest.
BP has spent much of the last five years trying to seal a major deal to extract gas offshore of North Alexandria. The deal was first announced under Mubarak in July 2010, for $9 billion. Following the revolution, new President Morsi met BP CEO Bob Dudley in September 2012 and announced the same project, then inflated to $11 billion.
However, BP was soon forced to put the flagship project on hold after residents in Idku mobilised against the plan to build a mega-gas plant next to their homes including sub-sea pipelines, offshore platforms and a new gas plant on the beach of this primarily fishing community.
They blocked roads, held popular street assemblies and occupied the building site. After long delays, the local resistance forced BP to concede. The company instead relocated to Burg Mighazil, a village in the neighbouring governate, where BP made an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood – then running Egypt’s government. But once again, popular opposition put BP on the back foot and stopped construction.
In 2014, former military leader Abdel Fattah El-Sisi became President and BP seized the opportunity to restart drilling and construction – this time cutting a deal worth $12 billion – the largest foreign direct investment Egypt has ever seen. CEO Bob Dudley again went to Cairo to meet with new PM Ibrahim Mahlab, and celebrate renewed co-operation.
Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. Photo: Wikimedia
As part of the clampdown on public criticism under President Sisi, Egypt’s strict anti-protest law threatens multi-year prison terms for street protests, with leftists, liberals and Islamists all receiving long jail sentences. With opposition silenced, BP’s way was cleared, and the company signed the final agreement for the project to go ahead in 2015.
Each time the North Alexandria deal was renegotiated, BP managed to squeeze better terms out of the Egyptian government – meaning fewer benefits for the economy and the general population. It also benefitted greatly from Sisi’s new Investment Law, which removed legal oversight over corrupt deals.
The deal is being financed by a partnership between BP and Russian oligarch Mikhail Fridman, and means the company is once again working with Lord Brown, its former BP CEO, who is executive chairman of L1 energy, Fridman’s oil and gas company.
Most recently, BP signed a brand new deal with Egypt in early November 2015. Bob Dudley and dictator Sisi met in London during Sisi’s recent visit to seal the deal on the Atoll discovery, a large deepwater field 6400m beneath the surface of the East Mediterranean Sea, estimated to hold 1.5 trillion cubic feet of gas, announced in March 2015.
One of BP’s directors is Sir John Sawers, former British Ambassador to Egypt and chief of MI6 from 2009 to 2014.
Resident march against expansion of BP’s operations in Idku. Photo: Mika Minio Paluello
Egypt’s vulnerability to climate change:
Egypt is one of the five most vulnerable countries in the world to rising water levels. Its shores are at risk of sinking, while its water security and food security are under threat.
By 2020, Egypt could lose more than 15% of its most fertile agricultural land in the Delta region, due to sea level rise and land salinisation.
The Nile Delta is home to half of Egypt’s 80-million-plus population, including two of its four most populated cities, Alexandria and Port Said.
Climate change is causing sea-level rises and a severe loss of sediment in the Nile Delta. Combined, this could see 30 percentof the Delta submerged in the next 15 years.
A one-half meter rise in sea level would force 1.5 million people to evacuate from Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest city. Almost 200,000 jobs would be lost
The salinity of coastal water is rising dangerously, posing a threat to Egypt’s agricultural sector, which makes up 29 percent of jobs and nearly 15 percent of national gross domestic product
We were present for the first part of the meeting, which brought together
academics and legal experts in order to discuss West Papua’s right to self-
determination, the ongoing genocide against the Indigenous population and the
logistics of an internationally supervised vote for the people of West Papua to
determine their own political future. Meanwhile, #letwestpapuavote was trending on twitter.
At the meeting there were also key players in the movement such as Chief Benny Wenda, international spokesperson of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, and several government representatives from other South Pacific nations, who were part of the historic international declaration for West Papuans to finally be given the right to vote for independence.
Professor Keith Hyams from University of Warwick presented findings from the University’s Assesment Report on West Papua. The report covers issues such as human rights violations, cases of torture by the Indonesian military and an assessment of future scenarios towards West Papua’s independence. Other speakers provided testimonies, and talked of the legal basis for West Papua’s right to self-determination, and the path towards a referendum.
A key aspect of the discussion was the economic element of Indonesia’s
resistance to a referendum. Speakers agreed that economic interests and
Indonesia’s stake in West Papua’s natural resources were at the heart of the
issue, and that the campaign needs to move forward in the economic area as well as the legal one.
The role of BP came up repeatedly, alongside other corporations with economic interests in the region. Lord Harries, former Bishop of Oxford and Chair of the International Parlamentarians for West Papua, drew parallels with the fight for independence in South Africa, and said that targeting corporations with economic interests in the area (for instance by brining up issues of ethics and corporate responsibility at shareholders meetings) would be an important step forward in the fight for West Papua’s freedom.
The Morning Star West Papuan flag is exhibited as part of the “A history of BP in 10 objects” exhibition in the British Museum by activists from ‘BP or not BP’
The role of corporations in supporting Indonesia’s occupation and oppression ofWest Papua has been denounced by leading campaigners for years. Last month, Chief Benny Wenda gifted a Morning Star flag representing the fight for freedom of the peoples of West Papua to our exhibition ‘A History of BP in 10 Objects’, in order to highlight BP’s connection to the Indonesian government.
He also recorded a video in which he describes how BP’s operations and its financial contribution to the Indonesian government help fuel the purchase of weapons, and as a result, the repression of people in West Papua fighting for their right to self-determination. He added: “I give this flag on behalf of my people of West Papua who continue to suffer and die under illegal occupation and genocide fuelled by BP.”
At the meeting a new declaration was made calling for an internationally supervised vote on the independence of West Papua. Statements of support were made by government officials and politicians from various countries, including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. You can learn more about their campaign and how to support them here.
Cadogan Hall concert targeted due to oil sponsor and conductor’s Putin links Unsanctioned ‘balcony scene’ evades security and entertains audience Concert-goers include senior officials from BP, and UK and Russian governments
Three performers from theatrical campaign group BP or not BP? took to the stage – and a balcony – at Cadogan Hall this evening to challenge BP’s sponsorship, just before Russia’s Mariinsky Orchestra was due to begin a performance of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. Invitees included VIPs from BP, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and the Russian Embassy, who gathered for a BP-hosted reception beforehand.
Three performers invade the stage and the balcony; the Prologue addresses the crowd. Photo by Hugh Warwick.
The actorvists, all of whom are LGBT, performed their own four-minute version of the Shakespeare play, titled ‘Ramira and Juliet’, in which the lovers are gay musicians who fall out over Ramira accepting sponsorship from BP. Adapting many famous passages from the play, they ultimately sort out their differences, drop the oily sponsor, and marry – which would be illegal in Russia under its draconian anti-gay laws. The full script can be found below.
Concert-goers laughed and applauded as the performers recreated the famous balcony scene with an anti-BP, pro-LGBT rights twist, culminating in the actorvists ripping the BP logo from their programmes. A lone heckler was shushed by the audience, and boos could be heard whenever BP’s name was mentioned. Security allowed the performance to conclude and the disobedient thespians left the building of their own accord.
Juliet pleads with Ramira to break up with BP. Photo by Hugh Warwick.
‘LGBT activists have a rich history of creative protest around civil rights, labour rights and climate change. We took to the stage tonight to confront BP staff and the British and Russian governments with urgent questions about the ethics of continued fossil fuel extraction, the need to end oil sponsorship and the ongoing struggle for LGBT rights.’
Dudley Cooper, who delivered the performance’s prologue and epilogue, said:
‘In just the last few weeks we’ve seen both the Tate and Edinburgh International Festival split with BP. The applause we got tonight suggests that the final curtain is near for BP, and it’s high time they left the stage.’
THE SCRIPT: Ramira and Juliet
[Ramira and Juliet are two musicians, hoping to marry now that Ramira has escaped the homophobic laws in her native Russia. However, Ramira is sponsored by BP and Juliet isn’t happy about it]
Britain and Russia!:
Two nations, both alike in oily amoury,
In fair London where we lay our scene,
Through ancient fossil fuels they form close bonds,
While the Earth’s black blood makes their hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two states,
Two lovers and musicians step, Ramira and Juliet.
One sponsored by oil, the other clean,
This pair of tar-cross’d lovers join the scene…
O Ramira, Ramira! Wherefore art thou Ramira?
Deny thy sponsor and refuse thy shame.
How can I be so bound in love to she
Who’s tied to BP, a rogue by any other name?
My love, Juliet, she speaks!
O, speak again, bright angel! Yet…
What storm is this that blows so contrary?
[To Juliet, trying to woo her] Fair Juliet, when we are wed —
Juliet:[Not having any of it]
I have no joy in your contract with BP:
It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden.
These dark riches make us hunger more,
And our countries forge most unjust wars
Against our planet, sick and pale with grief
Destroying it for wealth that lies beneath
O, but wilt thou leave me so un-funded?
Parting with oil money is such sour sorrow.
O, that complicity should dwell in such
a gorgeous palace! Blister’d be thy greed.
There’s no trust, no faith, no honesty in oil.
A logo by (almost) any other name would smell more sweet.
If we’re to wed, you must deny BP and refuse its spoils.
O Juliet, at last ‘tis clear to me,
Oil’s violent delights have violent ends
You hate BP like climate change’s blight
I never saw true duty til this night
To preserve our love, I’ll do what’s right
I bite my thumb at you, BP!
Fair Juliet, I take thee at thy word:
Call me but wife, and I’ll be new baptised;
Out, out, now damnèd logo so despised!
Juliet:[Delighted and relieved]
Ay me, a maiden blush bepaint my breast!
My love for thee is grown to such excess
So now that we are safe from Putin’s wrath
On more tolerant ground, let us marry forthwith!
A looming peace this evening with it brings,
As BP’s greed is banished by true love.
And so I say to Rosneft and BP:
A plague on both your houses!
For never was a story of morality clearer,
Than this of Juliet and her Ramira.
At yesterday’s BP AGM in London, almost 60% of shareholders voted against the company’s pay package for Chief Executive, Bob Dudley. For a company making cutbacks and losses, a 20% pay increase was always going to be hard to justify. But I very nearly missed the big announcement.
Opposition to BP’s plans to drill in the Great Australian Bight was hard to ignore.
After being politely searched and handing over my AGM registration card on the way in, a member of security approached…
“You’re being ejected from today’s meeting as you’ve protested at other events.”
I was taken aback – I had never protested at a BP AGM. (Today, I was even wearing a suit and had just had a haircut!) I explained that I had come to ask a question, not to cause disruption and that I should be allowed to put it to the board. I made clear that I wanted to ask about the consultation of Indigenous peoples. What followed was an awkward three minutes while the other security staff decided my fate.
“We’ve decided to allow you into today’s meeting.”
Someone, somewhere, had recognised that allowing legitimate questions to be put to the board was something that needs to be respected. In previous years, campaigners had been refused entry to the AGM with little justification. This shift, that they will accommodate those with legitimate questions, was important and needs to be upheld next year too.
Sea Shepherd brought a full-size inflatable sperm whale to the BP AGM. It didn’t get in…
Once inside, I was watched throughout. Another member of security sternly told me to turn my phone off and put it away – electronic devices were banned. I was sat next to a member of BP staff who had also been using her phone. Like a disgruntled teacher, the member of security turned to her: “I know you work for them, but you should be setting an example!”
After she had left, my new friend and “mischief-maker” from BP looked at me and said: “It is very annoying – and I work for them!”
A company so much in the public eye (and currently making headlines) should be seen to be transparent and accountable. Shareholders and journalists – and your own staff – should be allowed to tweet and text. What do they have to hide?
When the time came, I stood at the podium beneath the BP logo and addressed the stage with the board lined up behind BP-branded desks:
Given that Traditional Owners have voiced their opposition to these plans, was this sponsorship actually a strategic move to gain social legitimacy rather than fully address the concerns that have been raised?
Bob Dudley, in his introduction, had said that BP “supports the best of British arts and culture with no strings attached” and here the Chairman, Carl-Henric Svanberg, kept to the same line – “we’re proud of the way we pay back to UK society”. They claimed that they have “no plans to do anything differently” when it comes to the other sponsorship deals – an inconsistent position if pulling out of Tate and EIF were genuinely cost-cutting measures. In a change from previous years, when they had talked about sponsorship as a commercial decision like any other, the CEO made clear that “we do not sponsor exhibitions in order to curry favour”.
I pointed out that they had failed to address the first part of my question, that if they were willing to sponsor an exhibition of Indigenous peoples’ objects, surely they would also respect their objections and seek “free prior and informed consent” in other areas? (This is the language of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples).
There was an awkward silence. What followed was Bob Dudley asserting, again, “we would never seek the influence the content of exhibitions”. I made it clear that, those “other areas” were extractive projects like in the Great Australian Bight. Svanberg responded, saying that, “Our procedure is to talk and consult with Indigenous peoples” and ensure that we are “in alignment”.
Our recent ‘unofficial exhibition’ at the British Museum – A History of BP in 10 Objects – highlighted the situation in the Great Australian Bight alongside many other regions and communities impacted by BP. It included a photo of the Mirning Traditional Owner, Bunna Lawrie, alongside the terms of reference for the recent Australian Senate Inquiry into BP’s drilling plans where Bunna had recently spoken.
In a film about the Great Australian Bight Alliance, he has said, “We don’t want no oil to come and interfere, to come and destroy the place, to mess it up. We need to keep [the Bight] intact, to keep it as beautiful as it has been, so that whales and marine life continue to – like us humans – birth their young, breed their young, rear them, teach them, grow them up.”
Lyndon Schneiders from the Wilderness Society being interviewed outside the AGM
Later in the AGM, a flurry of questions about the Great Australian Bight came from shareholders, including members of Share Action and the Wilderness Society Australia’s National Director of Campaigns, Lyndon Schneiders.
Earlier in the week, Lyndon had joined members of BP or not BP? and the activist projectionist, Feral X, for a creative intervention at the BP-sponsored British Museum. While the museum was hosting a lecture on its next BP-sponsored exhibition – the aptly named “Sunken Cities” – we projected images of the Bight onto the building’s iconic facade, along with the message “BP Oil Drilling = Sunken Cities”. The questions in the AGM about the proposed Bight project covered many angles: ethical, financial and political. In his response, Bob Dudley observed:
“This investment in Australia’s not popular today…”
They were starting to get the message. After the announcement of the shareholder rebellion over Dudley’s pay package, I headed out of the vast ExCel conference centre. Outside, members of Sea Shepherd had been chanting throughout the meeting: “Shame, shame, shame on BP!” At one end, among the banners about the Bight, was an Aboriginal flag.
On Monday night, campaigners from BP or not BP?, Feral X and the Wilderness Society mounted a creative protest at the BP-sponsored British Museum. The group projected the words “Drop BP” alongside images of the BP rig preparing to drill in the Great Australian Bight onto the museum’s iconic building. It took place as the museum hosted a sold-out lecture on its next BP-sponsored exhibition, the aptly titled, “Sunken Cities” and follows a letter published in the Guardian last week from almost 100 respected figures urging the British Museum’s new director to drop BP as a sponsor. Later this week at BP’s AGM, shareholders will challenge BP’s plans to drill four ultra deep-water wells in the Great Australian Bight, off the south coast of Australia.
Photo by Diana More.
Lyndon Schneiders, National Campaign Director of the Wilderness Society in Australia, said:
The Great Australian Bight is too wild and too precious to be drilled for oil. It is a renowned whale sanctuary and BP should not be offshore drilling for oil there. We do not want a Deepwater Horizon disaster in Australia and the British Museum should not be associating itself with a company that wants to threaten this special place.
Ahead of BP AGM, campaigners project BP’s rig earmarked for the Great Australian Bight onto the British Museum’s iconic building. Photo by Diana More.
Chris Garrard, a member of BP or not BP? who helped organise the protest, said:
Last year, just as BP was pushing to drill in the Great Australian Bight, the British Museum gave the company valuable legitimacy by allowing it to sponsor an exhibition on Indigenous Australia. And this year, BP will sponsor the museum’s ‘Sunken Cities’ exhibition. But the bitter irony is that if BP drills four new wells in the Great Australian Bight, ‘Sunken Cities’ won’t just be a record of the past – it will be a vision of the kind of future we will face with dangerous climate change.
BP sponsorship of arts and culture has been in the spotlight after the end of its 26-year partnership with Tate was announced a few weeks ago and the confirmation last week that BP’s 34-year partnership with the Edinburgh International Festival has also come to an end. BP claimed the end of both deals was down to a “challenging business environment” but campaigners have disputed this, pointing out that BP’s CEO Bob Dudley is poised to gain a 20% pay rise at Thursday’s AGM.
Campaigners projected onto British Museum’s iconic building as members attended a lecture on new BP-sponsored exhibition, aptly title “Sunken Cities”. Photo by Diana More.
Campaigners are now targeting the British Museum’s sponsorship deal, which is up for renewal this year. Last Sunday, a group of twenty activists set up a ‘disobedient exhibition’ – A History of BP in 10 Objects – inside the museum, displaying items sent by communities from around the world directly impacted by BP’s operations. They criticised BP’s “meagre” payment to the museum, which represents around 0.8% of the British Museum’s budget.
The projection protest was organised by BP or not BP?, activist projectionist Feral X and supported by the Wilderness Society. A film of the action will be made available on social media on Wednesday 13th April at 9am.
Ahead of BP AGM, campaigners project “Drop BP” onto the British Museum’s iconic facade. Photo by Diana More.
Today it was revealed that, after 34 years, BP will no longer sponsor the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF). The move follows intense pressure on the EIF last August, including one of its major stars, Simon McBurney, speaking out publicly in criticism of the sponsor, and two protest performances from theatrical campaign group BP or not BP?.
The EIF 2016 programme was announced today and BP was absent from the sponsors list. The end of the relationship was confirmed by the EIF via twitter.
@MichaelMacLeod1 They have not renewed this sponsorship this yr. They’ve been great supporters but all sponsorships come to an end @FoEScot
Daniel Bye, whose show won a Fringe First award last year and who joined the creative protest against BP outside Usher Hall, said:
Whether or not it’s down to the vociferous campaigns, I’m delighted that EIF have ended their association with massive corporate criminal BP. I look forward to the day when arts organisations gladhanding big oil looks as freakishly untenable as tobacco or arms sponsorship. This takes us one step closer.
Last year saw two creative protests against BP during the festival, once outside Usher Hall and one in the Hub, the EIF’s headquarters. Following the festival, a group led by EIF staff, called BP Out of the Arts – Edinburgh, formed. They sent a letter to Fergus Linehan, EIF Director, and launched a public petition, resulting in a meeting with the director last autumn.
Jess Worth from BP or not BP?, who co-ordinated the protests at least year’s festival, said:
‘It’s less than a month since Tate parted company with BP and the dominoes are clearly starting to fall. The EIF has walked away from a 34-year partnership because being associated with BP was doing too much damage to its reputation. Big oil has been embedded in our museums and festivals for too long but now the shift to a fossil free culture is taking off. However, there is more to be done in Edinburgh. Now the Science Festival must clear out its fossil fuel funders and the Portrait Gallery should close its doors to BP.”
The announcement comes as pressure is growing on all arts organisations to sever their ties with oil companies. An opinion poll by Morar Consulting, commissioned by arts group Platform last week, shows that one in two Londoners (49.6%) want the British Museum to drop BP sponsorship. (27.8% said the museum should make another deal with BP, and 22.5% responded “I don’t know”.) Another survey of British Museum staff showed that 62% think BP sponsorship is ‘unethical’. This is survey was conducted by the Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents workers in major museums including the British Museum and Tate.
Amanda Grimm from BP or not BP? Scotland, which formed after the EIF protest last year and in February highlighted the ethical problems with BP’s sponsorship of the Portrait Award by staging a pop-up performance inside the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, said:
‘We are delighted that the sponsorship deal between BP and the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) has not been renewed. We congratulate the EIF staff who kept the pressure on the Festival’s director after the performance protest at the Festival last August. The world is shifting away from fossil fuels, and we believe that arts and cultural institutions, as trend-setters and forward-thinkers, should be at the forefront of this vital shift.
“Edinburgh International Festival should be congratulated on freeing itself from fossil fuel sponsorship. We know that most fossil fuels reserves must be kept in the ground if we want to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. We need to urgently move away from extracting and burning fossil fuels and companies like BP who continue to profit from the destruction of our environment have no place in our treasured cultural events or institutions.”
Today is the first day at work for the British Museum’s new director, Hartwig Fischer. One of his first big challenges will be to decide whether to drop BP as a sponsor. We decided to give him a proper welcome…
Firstly, we took over the Great Court of the British Museum with a ‘disobedient exhibition’ about the Museum’s notorious sponsor, BP. Twenty of us arrived at 11am yesterday and set up the exhibition – called ‘A History of BP in 10 Objects’ – without permission, inside the iconic space.
Our rebel exhibition sets up in the Great Court of the British Museum. All photos on this page by Amy Scaife
The exhibition featured objects sent from all over the world by communities impacted by BP’s environmental destruction and human rights abuses, including crude oil from the Gulf Coast spill, an empty tear gas cartridge from Tahrir Square and a shamanic healing tool from Colombia. You can see all the objects – including images, films and explanations – at our dedicated website www.historyofbp.org.
Our crew of ‘rebel curators’ gave tours and talks about the objects to hundreds of Museum visitors and staff, and used tablet devices to show films from the people who donated the objects, explaining their significance. We held the space – and our exhibition – until the Museum closed at 5.30pm. While we were in there, the second part of Hartwig’s welcome appeared in the Guardian: a letter, coordinated by the Art Not Oil coalition, from 91 famous and well-respected figures from across society. The signatories – including Mark Ruffalo, Margaret Atwood and Emma Thompson – are calling on Dr Fischer to end the Museum’s relationship with BP.
Today, we need your help with part three of Hartwig’s welcome: a petition asking him to drop BP, launched today with 38 Degrees. Please sign and share!
Fourthly, we will soon be presenting the objects from our guerrilla exhibition to the Museum as a gift to the nation. Museum trustees will then be required to consider whether to accept the objects into the collection.
Cherri Foytlin, a Gulf Coast resident who submitted this powerful film for the exhibition, said: “Since 2010, there are a lot more graves in the Gulf of Mexico than there were before, and that’s just the truth. So anytime we see arts organisations take on BP as a sponsor, we want to make sure those institutions understand that they are sponsoring death. They are sponsoring death in our communities.”
Benny Wenda, West Papuan Independence Leader, who submitted a Morning Star flag to the exhibition, said: “I give this flag on behalf of my people of West Papua who continue to suffer and die under illegal occupation and genocide fuelled by BP. We West Papuans have witnessed our sacred lands destroyed by multinational corporations just to make more profit for the Indonesian government. While we West Papuans are imprisoned for 15 years just for raising our national flag, you have the freedom to speak out.”
Jess Worth from BP or not BP? said: “The objects in this exhibition show that BP is a menace to local people and ecosystems all over the world. The British Museum is supposed to help us understand and learn from history. Instead it continues to promote one of history’s most notorious corporate villains. Hartwig Fischer’s first big challenge will be to end the museum’s controversial contract with BP.”
For the last twenty years, BP has sponsored the British Museum. Over the same period, it’s been linked to countless human rights and environmental abuses, while pursuing a business plan which makes climate breakdown inevitable.
This exhibition brings together objects sent from communities around the world and asks: why does the British Museum continue to work with this corporate criminal?
List of Objects:
Crude oil from the Louisiana coastline following the BP Deepwater Horizon spill
Lamassu charm from Iraq, where BP encouraged the Western invasion and is now operating
Photo of Colombian trade unionist Gilberto Torres, who is currently suing BP for its role in his kidnap and torture
Flag of independence from West Papua, where BP is supporting Indonesia’s repression of the West Papuan people
Tear gas cartridge from Tahrir Square, Egypt, where BP is the biggest foreign investor
Arpillera embroidery from Mexican and Latin American solidarity groups in London
Hard hat from blacklisted construction workers – the museum also works with blacklisting firm Carillion
Black confetti from Liberate Tate, used to celebrate Tate and BP parting company this March
Oil lamp rescued from Calder Valley floods on Boxing Day 2015
Waira Indigenous shamanic healing tool from Colombia
Photo album of images from communities living next to BP’s Whiting refinery in Indiana
Terms of Reference of Australian Senate inquiry over BP’s controversial plans to drill in the Great Australian Bight, sent by Bunna Lawrie, Indigenous Mirning Traditional Owner.
Painted sunflower from No Privatisation at the National Gallery campaign by PCS Union members – the union, which also represents British Museum workers, is committed to ending oil sponsorship of culture
Today we’re doing something new, and turning our website into a theatre. Visit us at 7.30pm GMT to watch the live stream (below) of internationally-acclaimed theatre company Complicite’s stunning new show The Encounter.
This extraordianary piece of theatre takes you on a vivid and immersive journey into the depths of the Amazon, and explores oil, colonialism, Indigenous rights, consciousness and humanity’s relationship with nature along the way. It also includes the voice of our very own actorvist Jess Worth, who was invited into rehearsals to talk about BP or BP?‘s work.
You MUST wear headphones to experience this performance, which will be available for a week after the livestream. If you watch it, let us know what you think of it in the comments. Enjoy!
Today (Saturday 27 Feb) a group of artists and activists surprised the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh with a performance at its BP Portrait Award exhibition, in protest at the oil giant’s sponsorship of the prestigious event. The group ‘BP or not BP?’ are calling on the Scottish Gallery to refuse to exhibit the BP Portrait Awards unless a new sponsor is found, and are urging London’s National Portrait Gallery not to renew its wider sponsorship deal with BP [1,2].
The theatrical piece drew attention to BP’s dire environmental and human rights record, with members of the group displaying paintings depicting people, animals and landscapes damaged by BP’s oil exploration, whilst others in character as ‘BP executives’ attempted to paint a better picture of their company. The performers displayed banners and sang songs about rejecting oil sponsorship, before escorting the ‘BP executives’ out of the building . The group also delivered a letter to the Director of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, and invited the public to sign a petition .
Claire Robertson, a participant in the performance, commented, “It’s outrageous that BP is allowed to clean up its reputation through association with the prestigious Portrait Awards, despite its well-documented role colluding with human rights abusing regimes in Azerbaijan and Colombia, funding destructive tar sands extraction, and causing environmental devastation with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill 
“BP have sponsored the awards for 25 years as the evidence of climate change has become far clearer and the need to act ever more urgent. Fossil fuel companies who are profiting from the destruction of the climate should not be allowed to paint themselves as respectable organisations with deals like this.”
Raoul Martinez , an artist whose portraits have been featured in the BP Portrait Award exhibition three times, supported the performance. He said:
“I have decided not to submit work to the National Portrait Gallery until they cut their ties with fossil fuel companies, and I hope other artists will join me. As research has shown, this is not really about money. Oil sponsorship only accounts for a few percentage points of the budgets of our cultural institutions. Alternative sources of funding could be found.
“Ultimately, the fossil fuel industry is based on violence — violence towards nature, violence towards the many communities already being displaced by the effects of climate change and the pollution of their land, air and water, and violence towards future generations. There is no piece of art, no museum, worth more than the oceans, forests and atmosphere that preserve life on our planet, and so I urge all institutions to get on the right side of history and cut their ties with these destructive companies.”
This theatrical protest comes at a time when the (London-based) National Portrait Gallery, Tate, the British Museum and the Royal Opera House are negotiating renewal of their five-year BP sponsorship deals . These institutions are likely to face escalating actions against renewal of these deals, with the campaign to end oil sponsorship of the arts already responsible for multiple protests at the Louvre, the British Museum and at the Edinburgh International Festival in the last 12 months.
Edinburgh-based artist Karen Bates  said: “There is no excuse for renewing such a backward facing contract. A change would give the institutions a breath of fresh air, and might even attract other artists; there will be people around the world who, in all good conscience feel they cannot apply for the award in the name of BP. I am sure there are hundreds of decent, ethical investors that would bring a more enlightened and respectable offer to the table.”
In 1988, the National Portrait Gallery ended its unethical Portrait Award relationship with tobacco company John Player that had begun in 1980 . The group believe that in the light of the historic Paris climate agreement and the need to dramatically reduce global carbon emissions, ending the relationship with the fossil fuel industry is long overdue.
Claire Robertson from BP or Not BP concluded,
“The cultural legitimacy that BP gains from association with arts institutions far surpasses any benefit to institutions themselves. The National Portrait Gallery in London must stop providing good PR for the fossil fuel industry and find a new sponsor for the awards, and should not renew its separate five-year sponsorship deal with BP this year. The SNPG, which does not take any direct sponsorship from oil companies, should show some moral leadership on this issue to the galleries in London.”
NOTES TO EDITORS
**Print-quality photos are available through Flickr Credit: Lauren McGlynn **
 BP or not BP Scotland is an environmental protest group founded to challenge oil sponsorship of the arts: http://bp-or-not-bp.org/scotland/
 While the Scottish National Portrait Gallery is not funded directly by BP, the National Portrait Gallery in London receives 2.9% of its annual income from the oil company, through the BP Portrait Awards sponsorship deal, which is due to come to an end this year. See: http://platformlondon.org/p-publications/artoilinfographic/
 One of the ‘portraits’ in the performance was of Gilberto Torres, a former trade union representative of the Union Sindical Obrera USO, the oil workers’ union in Colombia. Sr Torres is currently taking BP to court in Britain. He worked on the Ocensa oil pipeline in Columbia, which transported oil for BP, who also owned a 15.2% share in the pipeline. In 2002, Sr Torres was abducted, chained and tortured by a paramilitary brigade, employed by Ocensa to provide ‘security’ and ‘defense’ around the oil infrastructure, through a secret agreement with the Columbian defence ministry .
When Sr Torres was finally released, after the union members went on strike and stopped the entire oil industry in protest at his abduction, he stated: “La solidaridad es la fuerza que necesitan los desvalidos” / Solidarity is the force that the powerless need”. Sr Torres leant his support to today’s performance protest, which was devised in solidarity with the oil workers and communities around the world who are harmed by BP’s destructive actions.
The 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, which leaked 4.9 millions barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, led to BP being issued the largest environmental fine in US history of $20.8 Billion. All references available on the website http://bp-or-not-bp.org/scotland/
‘Picture This – A Portrait of 25 Years of BP Sponsorship’ – Report detailing BP’s actions throughout their time as sponsor: http://platformlondon.org/p-publications/picturethis/
Last night, a group of young scientists and climate campaigners gatecrashed a BP-sponsored “Late” event at the Science Museum, with a theatrical performance, banner drop and lecture, exposing the oil giant’s dire environmental record. The group, some of them in character as bumbling BP executives, unfurled a banner that read “Science is not neutral” and “BP – world’s biggest corporate criminal”, before explaining why we need to end oil sponsorship in order to tackle climate change. A large crowd of museumgoers gathered to watch, took flyers and asked questions about BP’s record around the world.
Members of the Progressive Science Institute and BP or not BP? drop banners over the side of bridge crossing the Science Museum’s main atrium
Beth Rice, a member of the Progressive Science Institute, who took part in the action, said:
“As scientists, we must stand by the research on climate change and not allow oil companies like BP and Shell to distort the narrative by sponsoring our cultural institutions. How can a so-called “science museum” partner itself with a company that is disregarding the science and exploring for new sources of fossil fuels, at a time when we need to be leaving known sources of fossil fuels in the ground?”
BP is the sponsor of the Science Museum’s “Cosmonauts” exhibition, which provided the theme for the evening’s “Late” event. Last week, billionaire fossil fuel funder and climate denier, David H. Koch, stepped down from the board of the American Museum of Natural History, following a 552,000-signature petition and ongoing controversy over his role at the museum. Last year, it was revealed that the oil company, Shell, had influenced the Science Museum’s climate science exhibition and the museum opted not to renew its partnership with Shell, a deal which elapsed in December. Campaigners are now calling on the museum to end its “toxic and ill-advised” relationship with BP.
Chris Garrard, a member of BP or not BP?, who also took part in the intervention, said:
“When BP sponsors the Science Museum, the Science Museum sponsors BP, giving it a legitimacy that it does not deserve. BP was given two record-breaking fines for its Deepwater Horizon disaster and vast areas of the Gulf of Mexico were polluted by the oil spill – you could see it from space. Now, this corporate criminal is planning to drill four new ultra deepwater wells off the south coast of Australia. The Science Museum should be joining the growing wave of churches, universities and other institutions cutting their ties to fossil fuels – not clinging to the past with BP.”
A week after Paris deal, activists expose “cosy relationship” between BP and British Museum in protest performance. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org
On Sunday 20th December at 3pm, 25 of our “actor-vists”, dressed as BP executives, hosted a spoof farewell party inside the British Museum’s Great Court, marking the departure of the museum’s director, Neil MacGregor, and we hope, the end of his “cosy relationship” with the museum’s sponsor, BP. Earlier this year, we obtained emails under the Freedom of Information Act revealing close relationships between BP staff and the museum’s outgoing director, and the British Museum will soon decide whether to renew its 5-year sponsorship deal with the oil giant. Our protest performance came just a week after 10 performers were arrested at the Musee du Louvre during the Paris climate talks, when they challenged the museum’s sponsorship by the oil companies, Total and Eni.
Rhiannon Kelly, one of the “actor-vists” who took part in Sunday’s performance, said:
The Paris climate deal has made the direction of travel clear – we must shift to a fossil free culture. So, when the British Museum decides whether or not to renew its sponsorship deal with BP, it must be ethics and the future of the planet that determines the outcome – not personal relationships. Rather than just preserving cultural artefacts, the British Museum should be in solidarity with the communities and cultures around the world that are already facing the impacts of climate change.
Photo: Peter Marshall (c)
Our protest performance began when a group posing as jubilant “BP executives” arrived in the Great Court, singing a rewritten version of Robbie Williams’s classic song, ‘Angels’:
Through all the oil spills / And even our court cases / Neil [MacGregor] wouldn’t forsake us / Art sponsorship will save us / We’re loving culture instead.
A performer, playing the part of the departing museum director, joined the cast and was then showered with oily “champagne”, fed chunks of a cream cake in the shape of the world, and scattered with dirty money. The performance highlighted the hypocrisy of the most recent BP-sponsored exhibitions and events at the museum, including Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilisation and the Mexican Day of the Dead festival, both of which have encountered protests made in solidarity with Aboriginal and Mexican activists respectively. The “BP executives” also made light of the title of the next BP-sponsored exhibition, the ironically named Sunken Cities. You can read the full script of the performance at the end of this blog.
Photo: Peter Marshall (c)
Following a Freedom of Information request made earlier this year, we received 19 pages of emails between BP and the museum’s outgoing director, from January 2014 to January 2015. Among opera and dinner invitations is an email sent by Neil MacGregor to a departing member of BP staff – on New Year’s Eve 2014 at 6:39pm! It included the following lines:
I am very sad that you are leaving BP and we will no longer be working together…
I have very much enjoyed every aspect of our cooperation, and have always known that we were working towards the same end…
BP is one of the world’s biggest corporate criminals, receiving the largest corporate criminal fine in history of $18.7 billion for its role in the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The civil case against BP reached its conclusion earlier this year but new suits have been filed against BP for the damage the spill caused to the Mexican coastline.
Our protest performance came just a week after 10 arts activists were arrested in the Musee du Louvre in Paris while creatively protesting the museum’s sponsorship deals with the oil companies, Total and Eni. Meanwhile, hundreds of climate campaigners had gathered outside the museum’s iconic glass pyramid, revealing umbrellas displaying the words ‘Fossil Free Culture’. It marked the coming together of a movement of artists and activists working to liberate museums and galleries from unethical corporate influence. Earlier this year, 36 leading climate scientists wrote an open letter to American museums and galleries, urging them to break their ties with the fossil fuel industry and the momentum for a fossil free culture continues to build.
Climate campaigners outside the Musee du Louvre. Photo: Kristian Buus (c)
3 BP executives stumble onto the stage, they have been drinking and start singing as if they have just come back from a bad karaoke night. To the tune of Robbie Williams’s ‘Angels’:
So when we’re lying in our beds
Thoughts running through our heads
And we feel that oil is dead…
We’re loving culture instead.
And through it all, Neil offered us cheap branding
And a social license
Through all the oil spills
And even our court cases
Neil wouldn’t forsake us
Art sponsorship will save us
We’re loving culture instead.
BP execs cheer, laugh, clink glasses, clap, etc. Enter Neil MacGregor.
Exec 1: What a wonderful evening. Oh, Neil MacGregor we were just saying how absolutely devastated we are that you are leaving your post as Director of this museum.
MacGregor: Oh, stop it. I am hugely grateful to everyone at BP for your longstanding and on-going commitment to the British Museu-
Exec 2: No Neil, thank you. We are so grateful for your longstanding and on-going commitment to the fossil fuel industry. Without you allowing us to put our branding all over your posters and public events, we would not have the same level of public support in order to legitimise our operations.
Exec 3: Exactly! As we want the public to think we care about art and culture! That we are as green and pleasant as our flowery logo and not hell-bent on destroying the climate at all. [Laughs]
All: Absolutely not… Here, here… Cheers to that! [Overlapping voices, all laugh, clink glasses etc]
Exec 1: We even have a lecture theatre named after us!
Exec 2: And our name engraved in the wall! Look!
MacGregor: Don’t mention it. Anything for my dear, dear friends and colleagues at BP. It’s all been worth it for the champagne, days out to the opera, VIP previews and dinner parties…
Someone holds up sign saying ‘Genuine quote from Neil MacGregor to BP’
I have very much enjoyed every aspect of our co-operation, and have always known that we were working towards the same end –
All:[Aside] Global climate catastrophe?!
MacGregor: – and working happily and humorously as well.
Exec 2: Yes, yes.
Someone holds up a sign saying ‘GENUINE QUOTE FROM BP TO NEIL MACGREGOR’
You have always been great supporters of BP and of the work we have been leading. To be able to sit here with all of you, and address you as friends, is an absolute privilege.
Exec 1: I mean, just look at our achievements. Over the years we’ve had our logo on the ‘Vikings: Life and Legend’ exhibition [presents poster] and hosted a wonderful dinner afterwards.
Exec 2: Despite the fact that we ourselves are oily plunderers…
Exec 1: ‘Ming: 50 Years that changed China’. Look, how beautiful the logo looks right here [presents poster and gestures at logo]
Exec 3: We were one of the first foreign companies to begin operating in China… And have just recently strengthened our ties with a $10 billion deal!
Everyone claps, cheers
Exec 1: Then of course there was ‘Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilisation’ [presents poster]
Exec 2: Despite the fact that we are destroying the land, lives and liveliehood of indigenous communities and are planning to drill four new wells in the Great Australian Bight, even deeper than the ones that destroyed the Gulf of Mexico!
Everyone claps, cheers, getting louder
Exec 3: Speaking of Mexico, don’t forget the time we teamed up with the Mexican Government for the Day of the Dead event!
Exec 1: That was a good one. We’re trying to build more wells there and all. Despite the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which has polluted Mexico’s waters and coastline, and for which we received the largest criminal fine in history! But get this… Guess what the name of our next exhibition is? Go on, guess!
All: SUNKEN CITIES! [All clap, cheer and collapse into laughter]
MacGregor:[Laughs nervously] Well, I guess when you put it like that… [Has second thoughts about the relationship]
Exec 3: No, no, no Mr. MacGregor. These are all brilliant achievements only made possible by our fruitful collaboration.
[GENUINE QUOTE SIGN] We are genuinely privileged to enjoy such a wonderful relationship with the British Museum.
Have some more champagne…
All: Yes, yes, more champagne MacGregor… Here, have some cake… [Execs presents cake with globe icing] Drink? Food? Whatever you want, MacGregor…
Overlapping voices, everyone starts drinking and eating orgiastically. Execs push the cake, drink and BP money to MacGregor, who is getting steadily more full and inebriated and eventually collapses into a chair, covered in oily gloop with the BP money scattered around him.
Exec 1: That was a close one.
Exec 2:[Smiles] As we were saying, we are hugely grateful for Neil’s longstanding and on-going commitment to the fossil fuel industry. Farewell, Neil. We will miss you very much.
Exec 3: [Raises glass for a toast] To Neil!
Exec 2: What are we going to do without him?
Exec 3: Well, a little bird told me that there’s going to be a new Director starting in the Spring.
Exec 2: Oh yes! Hartwig Fischer isn’t it!?
Exec 1: Yes! Oh, yes… Hartwig Fischer… [grins maniacally] We’ll befriend and bribe him soon enough. Oh, think of all the parties and events we’ll invite him to. We’ll take him to the opera! The Rigoletta!
All:[Overlapping voices, getting louder and more excited] We’ll host even more lavish dinner parties! … Business meetings! … Opening nights! … VIP Previews! … Exhibitions! … Screenings! … Drinks!
Exec 3:[Raises glass] To Hartwig Fischer.
All: Hartwig Fischer!
Clutching their glasses and what remains of the cake, etc, the execs sway drunkenly and burst into song. Neil MacGregor is still slumped on the chair, occasionally joins in. To the tune of ‘Auld Lang Syne’:
Ten arrested inside Louvre Museum at unsanctioned performance action
Hundreds surround the Louvre’s iconic pyramid in Paris in protest at oil sponsorship of museum
Performance marks the first international collaboration of growing movement to liberate museums and cultural institutions from ties to fossil fuels
On December 9th at 12pm, hundreds of artists and climate activists staged an unsanctioned protest performance at the Louvre museum in Paris, urging the museum to cancel its sponsorship deals with the oil companies Total and Eni. Outside, in front of the museum’s iconic pyramid, they spelled out the words “Fossil Free Culture” in black umbrellas painted with giant white letters.  Despite the city’s ban on protests, artists and activists from around the world called for “a culture beyond fossil fuels, both at the COP and in our cultural institutions,” in solidarity with Indigenous and other communities’ struggles at the frontlines of climate change and oil drilling.
Simultaneously a smaller group of art-activists spilled an oil-like substance in the atrium of the museum–clad in black clothes and holding black umbrellas, the artists walked barefoot in the “oil spill”, leaving footprints on the marble floor as a symbol of fossil fuel corporations’ influence on museums.
10 participants in the unauthorized indoor performance were arrested by French police. Two managed to smuggle a phone into their cell and broadcast an illicit video message, which has now been viewed over 850,000 times:
All ten were released without charge later that night.
Beka Economopoulos from New York-based art-activism collective Not An Alternative, one of the organisers of the intervention, said:
“It used to be acceptable for tobacco companies to sponsor cultural institutions. That’s no longer the case. We believe it’s a matter of time before the same is true of fossil fuel companies. When oil companies sponsor the Louvre, the Louvre likewise sponsors those companies–the museum gives these companies cultural capital and their ‘social license to operate’. On the occasion of the UN Climate Summit in Paris, we’re urging the Louvre to stop sponsoring climate chaos.”
Mel Evans, artist and author of “ArtWash: Big Oil and the Arts” was one of those arrested during the inside intervention. From jail she says: “We made a beautiful performance to challenge Total’s sponsorship of the Louvre and now the police are protecting the interests of the oil companies. With the climate talks in Paris, it’s time for galleries to go fossil free”.
This action marks the first international collaboration between a number of artist-activist groups working to liberate museums and cultural institutions around the world from ties to fossil fuel companies. This new and rapidly growing movement for a #FossilFreeCulture extends the divestment movement into the cultural sphere, calling on cultural institutions to cancel fossil fuel sponsorship contracts, divest financial holdings in the industry, and kick oil executives and climate deniers off their boards. Campaigners argue that fossil fuel companies sponsor museums and galleries in order to cleanse their tarnished brands and gain a ‘social licence’ to operate, to keep drilling and mining.
At the protest performance a red line was drawn in front of the umbrellas to call urgent attention to the struggle of frontline Indigenous communities against climate injustice. The Rights of Indigenous People’s and Human Rights are currently on the chopping block of the Paris Climate Accord.
Faith Gemmill, Executive Director, REDOIL (Alaska), said
“In the Arctic, we are seeing severe impacts from global climate change, simultaneously we are defending our traditional homelands and culture from aggressive assaults on sacred and important subsistence use areas, such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. How are we to survive if the fossil fuel industry, companies such as ENI and Total continue to impede our rights? They are committing climate genocide on us, there is no way that we can allow corporations continue to generate a social license to operate by sponsoring our cultural institutions such as the Louvre.” .
Ragnhild Freng Dale from Stopp Oljesponsing Av Norsk Kulturliv (Norway) said:
“We know that the COP is not on route to give us the deal we need to stay within a safe limit of global warming. Oil companies like Total and Eni have business plans to keep drilling for more fossil fuels in ever riskier places, when the climate science is clear it needs to stay in the ground to protect current and future generations from runaway climate change. We need to separate our cultural institutions and the climate negotiations from oil companies’ influence.”
Suzanne Dhaliwal from the UK Tar Sands Network said:
“We are seeing that the climate talks in Paris are being derailed by corporate interests and a failure of the UN to commit to the rights of Indigenous Peoples, human rights and gender equality. It is essential at this time in history we free our cultural institutions from the bondage of corporate control. We need the freedom to reimagine a culture beyond fossil fuels and we cannot do that when the same ENI  and Total are violating the rights of people fighting to to stop Arctic drilling and Tar Sands expansion are at the helm of our cultural institutions.”
 Participating groups included Art Not Oil (UK), BP or not BP? (UK), G.U.L.F. (US), Liberate Tate (UK), Not an Alternative (US), Occupy Museums (US), Platform London (UK), Science Unstained (UK), Shell Out Sounds (UK), UK Tar Sands Network (UKTSN), Stopp Oljesponssing av Norsk Kulturliv (Norway), The Natural History Museum (US) alongside other artists, activists and campaign groups from around the world.
On Sunday, a coalition of anti-oil activists held a ‘public but unauthorised’ conference at the Science Museum, highlighting the institution’s continued ties with the fossil fuel industry.
The group took over the entrance to the museum’s Cosmonauts exhibition, currently sponsored by BP, and unfurled banners next to a lectern. Many visitors joined the event and showed their support by joining in discussions and taking flyers.
Activists celebrated earlier this month at the news the Science Museum plans to drop Shell as a sponsor, but are now demanding BP, the sponsor of the current Cosmonauts exhibition, must now go as well. They are also concerned that the chair of fracking industry body UKOOG, Averil Macdonald – who recently made headlines with controversial comments on women and fracking – sits on the Science Museum’s board of trustees.
Members of BP-or-not-BP – best known for their theatrical interventions at the Royal Shakespeare Company and British Museum – presented work based on Freedom of Information requests to the Science Museum. This caused scandal earlier this year when it was revealed that Shell had tried to influence the presentation of the climate change gallery it was sponsoring at the Science Museum. They joined forces with the Progressive Science Institute, a group of PhD students and scientists who believe science should not pretend to be separate from many of the political, economic and social realities which play a huge role in all our lives.
Museum visitors were also presented with research from Greenpeace’s investigations unit, as well as presentations on energy demand reduction, divestment and the social history of technology.
Protest against oil sponsorship has tended to focus on arts spaces in the UK. However, in the US, relationships between science museums and the fossil fuel industry have come under increasing scrutiny over the last year.
In March, an open letter signed by dozens of climate scientists and environmental groups called for museums of science and natural history to “cut all ties” with fossil fuel companies and philanthropists like the Koch brothers. Signatories included James Hansen, Climatologist, James Power, former President and Director of the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum, and Michael Mann, Meteorologist.
Pressure on museums to cut ties with fossil fuel industries are likely to increase as we approach the UN climate talks in December. A three day ‘public but unauthorised’ arts festival at the Tate has been called for December 4th-6th by Platform.
A spokesperson for the Progressive Science Institute said:
The Science Museum has a duty to promote scientific solutions to the biggest problem humanity faces: Climate Change. It cannot afford to be linked with those that are causing it.
Chris, who spoke about FOIs and is a member of BP or Not BP, said:
In return for meagre donations, BP and Shell get their logos on the wall of our top museums and galleries, helping to cleanse their tarnished brands. We’ve shifted away from taking money from the tobacco industry – now we need to do the same with oil.