Mermaids, maps, and bombs: a double protest

  • We bring a ‘splashmob’ of singing merfolk and an interactive map into the British Museum in protest at BP sponsorship
  • At the same time, the London Transport Museum is targeted by London Campaign Against Arms Trade (London CAAT) in protest at arms company funding
  • Our two groups join forces for the first time to challenge unethical museum sponsorship deals
The splashmob in full flow. Photo by Kristian Buus.
The splashmob in full flow. Photo by Kristian Buus.

Today at 2pm, two simultaneous protests began at two different London museums, calling on the institutions to end their controversial sponsorship deals with oil and arms companies.

In the British Museum, a troupe of ten merfolk – from theatrical protest group ‘BP or not BP?’ – launched into a BP-themed version of ‘Under the Sea’ from the Little Mermaid, near the BP-sponsored ‘Sunken Cities’ exhibition (lyrics below). They briefly blocked the entrance to the exhibition and then roamed the museum for three hours, singing songs and holding signs to thank BP for all the cities that will sink in the near future, thanks to the climate change caused by the oil company’s products and political lobbying.

'Cities are better when they are wetter, mermaids agree!' Photo by Kristian Buus
‘Cities are better when they are wetter, mermaids agree!’ Photo by Kristian Buus

Meanwhile, other members of the group set up a giant map of the world, showing cities at risk from rising sea levels, directly outside the Sunken Cities exhibition. They spent the afternoon gathering stories and personal memories of those cities from museum visitors, including people from New Orleans, Mumbai, Shenzhen, Buenos Aires, Dubai and Manila.

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Museum-goers examine the map of cities at risk from rising seas, and add their own personal messages and memories. Photo by Kristian Buus.

At the same time, members of London Campaign Against Arms Trade (London CAAT) organised a demonstration outside the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden. They were protesting against the sponsorship of the museum by Thales, one of the world’s biggest arms companies. Thales’ products include missiles, drones and aircraft carriers. Its customers include some of the world’s most repressive regimes such as Russia and Saudi Arabia. London CAAT distributed postcards, displayed banners reading “Disarm the museum”, and encouraged the public to contact the museum to voice their concerns.

Controversy around BP’s arts sponsorship has been growing rapidly this year. After six years of pressure 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, after BP or not BP?’s creative protests hit the headlines at the festival last year.

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. Soon afterwards, Art Not Oil published a damning report exposing BP’s ‘corrupting influence’ over the museums it sponsors and protests have continued to escalate at the British Museum just as it is deciding whether to renew its 5-year deal with oil giant. BP or not BP?, Greenpeace and the London Quakers all took action at the museum last month. However, Dr Fischer reportedly told journalists this week that he hoped the museum’s relationship with BP would continue.

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Merfolk introduce the map to museum-goers. Photo by Kristian Buus.

Meanwhile, the arms company Thales – sponsor of the London Transport Museum – has been the target of multiple corruption allegations, and in 2011 was fined 170 million Euros for bribery. The company is listed as a leading member on the transport museum’s website, and has used the museum’s rooms to meet with UKTI DSO, the government body responsible for promoting arms exports.

London CAAT member Wendy Horler said: ‘Museums are places to learn and discover while arms companies’ business destroys and devastates. The London Transport Museum should end its sponsorship with Thales immediately. With oil sponsorship of museums being challenged and some museums cancelling these deals, we hope arms companies will also be seen as anathema to museums.’

Danny Chivers from BP or not BP? said: ‘BP is actively blocking clean energy laws, and pushing to extract more and more oil and gas. Its business plan relies upon a level of climate change that will cause enormous damage to dozens of major cities from rising sea levels. We still can’t quite believe that the British Museum has chosen this company to sponsor an exhibition called ‘Sunken Cities’. We want to see museums adopting genuine ethical sponsorship guidelines that would prevent them from giving false legitimacy to destructive companies like BP and Thales.’

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Visitors got into the anti-BP spirit and enjoyed using our signs. Photo by Kristian Buus.

Lyrics to ‘Under The Sea’

It’s time that we start to plan for
When cities become lakes
Because when the ocean rises
Mermaids get the real-estate!
Just look at the world around you:
this will be the ocean floor
Apartments with seaweed gardens
Submerged museums galore!

Under the sea, under the sea
Cities are better when they are wetter
Mermaids agree!
What do BP give? a bit of cash!
Sunken cities? oh what a splash!
Cities are sinking to champagne clinking
Thank you BP!

Just keep the fossils burning
So sea levels rise with haste
Our fishy hearts are yearning
To fill up your human space
Just look at the world around you:
This will be the ocean floor
Apartments with seaweed gardens
Submerged museums galore!

Under the sea, under the sea
Cities are better when they are wetter
Mermaids agree!
What do BP give? a bit of cash!
Sunken cities? oh what a splash!
Cities are sinking to champagne clinking
Thank you BP!


One thought on “Mermaids, maps, and bombs: a double protest

  1. Good on you guys!
    Sorry to miss this one. Looked like one of the best yet!
    Hope to see y’all next time.

    Rob Tresidder

    Like

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