50 performers recreate Deepwater Horizon oil spill inside British Museum in protest at BP sponsorship
- New York activists Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir join forces with BP or not BP?
- Guerrilla performance marks five years since disastrous oil spill
- Performers cause disruption in the Great Court, with umbrellas, giant pelicans, songs and an anti-BP sermon
Today at 12.30pm, New York-based singing activists Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir joined forces with UK-based oil sponsorship campaigners BP or not BP? to recreate the BP Deepwater Horizon spill inside the British Museum. The unsanctioned performance filled the Great Court with singing, dancing, a giant pelican drowning in oil and an impassioned sermon calling on the Museum to dump BP, whose sponsorship contract is due to expire soon.
This was the latest in a series of creative protests accusing the British Museum of helping BP to clean up its tarnished brand by allowing it to sponsor the museum’s major exhibitions, in a five-year deal that ends next year. Last week’s press launch of the new BP-sponsored ‘Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilisation’ was disrupted by theatrical protest group BP or not BP?, aghast at the inappropriate and insensitive choice of sponsor. The company’s massive contribution to climate change is putting the future of Indigenous communities in Australia, and humanity around the world, at risk.
The performance began with fifty performers creating an “oil spill” with black umbrellas on the stairs in the Museum’s Great Court. Hundreds of museum-goers gathered to watch as the slick gradually engulfed two animated puppets – a pelican and a dolphin – while the performers sang:
“It started with a crude spill, off the Gulf Coast, from a rig of BP
Museum why you helping, why you helping BP?”
The pelican’s death was marked with an unearthly shriek, at which point a BP-branded umbrella emerged from the slick and the performers formed into lines of black-clad mourners, as if at a funeral. Reverend Billy then addressed the crowd, calling on museum-goers to challenge the oil company’s relationship with the Museum. He called the sponsorship of the Indigenous Australia exhibition “ridiculous”, and pointed out that BP is currently planning to drill four new deepwater wells off the coast of Australia, in an area where blue whales breed.
Today’s protest-performance marked five years since the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon spill. BP is officially the world’s biggest corporate criminal, having received the largest criminal fine in history ($4.5 billion) in November 2012 for its ‘grossly negligent’ role in causing the disaster. The company is still in court, facing billions more in fines, and the oil it spewed continues to kill fish, birds, sea turtles and dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as destroying the health and livelihoods of residents.
Reverend Billy said:
‘We are noticing a change in people. There is a quickening, a last deep breath before action. Everyone seems to know that time has run out. The earth is saying we are the next super-storm.’
Jess Worth from BP or not BP? said:
‘As animals and residents in the Gulf Coast suffer the hellish aftermath of BP’s record-breaking spill, the British Museum is happy to plaster the oil giant’s logo all over its highest-profile exhibitions. The museum doesn’t need BP – less than 1% of its income comes from the oil giant. But BP needs the museum, to greenwash its image and give it the legitimacy it needs to keep polluting. The Museum trustees should do the ethical thing, and end this dirty deal.’
This was BP or not BP?’s 12th creative protest inside the British Museum. They were joined by New York-based Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir, who are performing at Wilton’s Music Hall later this evening. Earlier this week, the group performed an exorcism of BP at Tate Liverpool.
A recent Freedom of Information request by BP or not BP? revealed that BP’s donations in 2000-2011 represented just 0.8% of the British Museum’s income. Another request uncovered a series of emails between the museum’s outgoing director, Neil MacGregor, and staff members at BP, revealing a sponsorship deal sustained by cosy relationships at the top level.