Drenched performers occupy British Museum after hours

  • 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.’

Drenched actorvist Credit LXPX
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.

Credit BP or not BP (1)
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)’.

Jack Shenker tweetControversy 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.

Disobedient artwork at BP Sunken Cities launch. Photo by Kristian Buus. 3
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.

Credit BP or not BP (4)
The ‘BP’ character waits until he can announce another sunken city.

Here is the full list of cities, and year in which they are likely to be lost, if the world continues to burn fossil fuels. This is based on projected sea level rises from: Hansen et al, Journal of Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, March 2016.

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


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