Last night, the private VIP launch of the BP-sponsored ‘Troy: Myth and reality’ exhibition faced serious disruption after we occupied the 5 main entrances to the exhibition gallery inside the British Museum.
Our actor-vists refused to leave the museum when it closed to the public and instead, began converting themselves into Troy-themed “living statues”, occupying the doorways before guests – including BP staff, museum trustees and management – arrived for the high-profile launch event.
Of course, we took our creative inspiration from the exhibition itself, and with costumes, props and make-up converted five of our number into statues based on Greek mythology and the story of the Trojan Wars! But alongside Helen of Troy, Achilles, Zeus and Athena, we decided to add a fifth statue of our own invention – the oily god of fossil fuel, “Petroleus” – who wore a BP logo and a long oil slick for a robe.
Later, we noticed that VIP guests were being redirected to an adjacent gallery for the start of the event, and strongly encouraged not to approach our performance. When the guests were eventually taken into the exhibition itself, they were forced to take a circuitous route via the gift shop into the rear of the exhibition, rather than through the main entrances.
Once the event was underway – but while some guests were still arriving – our statues processed from their plinths and lined the museum’s grand main entrance.
Once in position, the sinister Petroleus proceeded to drench his fellow statues – and eventually himself – with oil, before collapsing to the ground. The performance unfolded with a rich accompaniment by members of the group forming a Greek Chorus, singing ‘We foresee the fall of BP!’.
(Sky News footage of the performance, including interviews with BP and the British Museum)
Sophie McIntosh, one of our Troy-themed “living statues”, said:
‘BP’s sponsorship of the British Museum is, ironically, just like the famous Trojan Horse highlighted in the exhibition. The company sponsors the museum in order to look like a generous gift-giver that cares about culture but, in reality, it’s a cynical attempt to deflect attention from something far more sinister. As the climate crisis intensifies, BP is still 97% invested in fossil fuels and plans to spend billions searching for new oil that we can’t afford to burn. But with the RSC and the Scottish National Galleries now cutting their ties to BP, these cultural sponsorship deals are rapidly becoming BP’s Achilles heel.’
Yesterday, theatre director Zoe Lafferty and actor and Syrian refugee Reem Alsayyah – whose work features in the exhibition – wrote to the director and trustees of the British Museum in an open letter, telling them it was a ‘devastating blow’ to discover that the exhibition would be sponsored by the oil giant. Lafferty, who was attending the launch last night and also took part in our protest, confronted British Museum trustee Muriel Gray and made a heartfelt plea to her to rethink the partnership with BP, with one of our performers then explaining why BP isn’t all it claims to be! Watch what happened below.
The spotlight on the British Museum has been intensifying after we – along with many others – forced the Royal Shakespeare Company to cut its ties to BP last month! And just last week, the National Galleries of Scotland followed suit saying it would no longer host the BP Portrait Award because its commitment to addressing the climate emergency was seen as being in conflict with the prize’s association with BP. And earlier this year, bestselling author Ahdaf Soueif resigned from the British Museum’s board over its ‘immovability on issues of critical concern’, including BP sponsorship.
This Troy-themed performance was our 57th rebel performance in an oil-sponsored institution, and the 37th inside the British Museum. Back in February, we held the biggest-ever protest in the museum’s history to challenge BP’s sponsorship of its Assyria exhibition. But in February 2020, we’ll be back to beat our own record with an even larger mass performance, which will feature a crowdfunded Trojan Horse!
We know that BP is sponsoring the British Museum and other cultural institutions not because it cares about culture but in order to distract from its pollution, corruption and human rights abuses. Even in the face of climate emergency, BP plans to expand its oil and gas extraction by 20% over the next ten years – a business plan that is at odds with the goals set out in the Paris climate deal. Stephen Corrigan, one of our members, said:
“Like its projects in Egypt, West Papua, Argentina and elsewhere, BP is benefiting from repressive government policies in Turkey that silence local opposition to its operations. This is helping BP to build oil and gas infrastructure that could lock us into using fossil fuels for decades to come, at a moment when we need to be urgently shifting away from these polluting energy sources. According to the climate science, we cannot afford to build any new oil or gas infrastructure if we want a decent chance of avoiding climate breakdown – and yet BP is planning to spend tens of billions of pounds on these kinds of projects over the next ten years.”
We know that BP has previously used its sponsorship of the British Museum to help strike new deals, with previous exhibitions allowing BP’s executives to rub shoulders at VIP events with Egyptian, Russian and Mexican government officials, at key strategic moments for the company and its oil interests in these countries. It’s no surprise that BP also has business interests connected to the new Troy exhibition. In July 2019. the oil company completed work on the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline, a major gas transport line running across Turkey that passes just 75 miles from the location of ancient Troy.