Just four days after we gatecrashed the VIP launch of the British Museum’s BP-sponsored exhibition, ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’, we’ve just invaded the stage at the curators’ opening lecture. This took place in the museum’s main venue for talks and presentations: the BP Lecture Theatre.
At 13.25 today, just before the curators’ talk was due to begin, members of our group took to the stage without permission with a Troy-themed performance. In reference to the name of the sponsored exhibition, the performance aimed to expose the “myth” of BP’s claims to be an ethical, generous donor and reveal the “reality” of its climate-crashing business activities.
After taking the stage, three BP-branded statue figures, cloaked in grey tunics, each put forward a widespread myth about the oil firm and its sponsorship deals before being rebutted by a straight-talking truth-teller in a golden cloak.
After the narrator opened the performance, one BP statue started with the company line:
‘We participate [in oil drilling] only if we are confident that we can operate safely and responsibly.’
But the truth-teller responded with the powerful words of Cherri Foytlin, an Indigenous activist and mother of six from the US Gulf Coast:
‘Since the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010, there are a lot more graves in the Gulf of Mexico than there were before, and that’s just the truth. Any time we see arts organisations take on BP as a sponsor, we want those institutions to understand that they are sponsoring death in our communities.’
Another of the oil-branded statues recited the words of the British Museum’s director:
‘We are grateful to BP for their ongoing support without which important exhibitions such as these would simply not be possible.’
‘We have a responsibility to do all we can to address the climate emergency. For many, the association with BP is at odds with that aim.’
More myths and realities were presented to the audience, while the statues repeated the slogan from BP’s latest advertising campaign: ‘We see possibilities everywhere’. But in the performance, these words took on a sinister twist when contrasted with the company’s impacts on people and the climate. The full performance script can be seen below.
At the end, the statues dramatically ripped up their BP logos and the narrator told the audience that ‘the words you’ve heard are not of my invention’ before unfurling a banner reading ‘Drop BP’.
During the performance, one audience member began to heckle but was shushed by other members of the audience who wanted to hear what the performers were saying. A member of museum staff organising the event also asked the audience to be quiet and listen.
At the end of the performance, there was loud applause from the majority of the audience – accompanied by some booing, but with some audience members giving the performance a standing ovation. As the performers left, many audience members thanked them and expressed their agreement. The curator’s lecture then went ahead as planned.
This performance comes just four days after we blockaded entrances to the VIP launch of the BP Troy exhibition, with a troupe of oily living statues.
Marianna Warner, who took part in today’s performance said:
‘By accepting sponsorship from BP, the British Museum is helping to promote a major polluter and sustain the myth that it is a responsible company committed to tackling the climate crisis. But as the narrator in our performance reminds us, we need to expose the truth behind the spin and the BP logos. The reality is that BP still invests 97% of its business in fossil fuels, and plans to expand its oil and gas extraction by 20% over the next ten years – it isn’t part of the transition we urgently need. By partnering with BP, the British Museum is helping to provide a veneer of respectability and colluding in the oil company’s misinformation campaign.’
Earlier this week, director Zoe Lafferty and actor 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 attended the exhibition’s VIP launch on Tuesday and supported BP or not BP?’s protest that night, confronted British Museum trustee Muriel Gray and made a heartfelt plea to her to rethink the partnership with BP, a video of which can be viewed on Twitter.
In response to BP or not BP?’s action at the exhibition launch on Tuesday, BP’s Vice President Peter Mather told Sky News that ‘the difference between companies like mine…and where some of the climate activists are is only a period of 25 years’, but when pressed, he accepted that 25 years would be ‘make or break’ for the climate. Campaigners accuse BP of sponsoring the British Museum, National Portrait Gallery and Royal Opera House in order to distract from its pollution, corruption and human rights abuses.
Pressure on the British Museum has intensified after the Royal Shakespeare Company announced last month that it would be ending its BP sponsorship deal and the National Galleries of Scotland revealed last week that it would no longer host the BP Portrait Award. 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 was BP or not BP?’s 58th rebel performance in an oil-sponsored institution, 38 of which have been at the British Museum. Back in February 2019, we held the biggest-ever protest to target the British Museum in history, to challenge a BP-sponsored Assyria exhibition.
In February 2020, we plan to return and beat their own record with an even larger mass performance at the BP Troy exhibition, which will feature a crowdfunded Trojan Horse. We’d love you to join us – follow this link to find out how!
Full performance script:
What is a myth? And where do we find reality?
Over three minutes, we’ll tell you three myths.
Sculpture and stories can reveal a deeper truth,
But this is also where some villains hide.
We are BP, we sponsor these walls. We see possibilities everywhere.
The first myth! The myth of BP as a champion of renewable energy. And BP’s CEO has said:
We continue to make bold changes across the group as part of our commitment to advancing a low carbon future.
We see possibilities everywhere.
BP plays the hero. But beyond its spin, the truth is this:
BP drills for more oil than we can afford to burn. BP is 97% fossil fuel and will stay this way for many years more.
We see possibilities everywhere.
The second myth! The myth of BP drilling safely, without destruction. And BP has said:
BP Statue 2:
We review exploration possibilities worldwide, and participate only if we are confident that we can operate safely and responsibly.
We see possibilities everywhere.
But the Deepwater Horizon oil spill tells a different story. Cherri Foytlin is an indigenous woman from Louisiana. And she said:
There are a lot more graves in the Gulf of Mexico than there were before, and that’s just the truth. Any time we see arts organisations take on BP as a sponsor, we want those institutions to understand that they are sponsoring death in our communities.
We see possibilities everywhere.
The third myth! The myth that the arts cannot survive without BP’s toxic sponsorship. The director of the British Museum has said:
We are grateful to BP for their ongoing support without which important exhibitions such as these would simply not be possible.
But we see possibilities everywhere.
Just weeks ago, the Royal Shakespeare Company cut its ties to BP. And that theatre said:
Young people are saying clearly to us that the BP sponsorship is a barrier between them and their wish to engage with us. We cannot ignore that message.
The Scottish National Galleries cut their ties too. And they said:
We have a responsibility to do all we can to address the climate emergency. For many, the association with BP is at odds with that aim.
So, remember, friends, the words you’ve heard are not of my invention
They are all words as they were spoken.
As you explore the myths of Troy,
Expose the truth this logo hides.
We see possibilities everywhere. BP must fall.
Note: The phrase “BP Must Fall” is a direct reference to the incredible “Rhodes Must Fall” campaign, exposing the violent truth behind British colonialism in Africa and elsewhere, and calling for justice and decolonisation. We wanted to use the phrase “BP Must Fall” to echo the “Shell Must Fall” campaign that’s been launched from the Netherlands, which is also a reference to RMF. So we contacted Rhodes Must Fall and asked for their permission to use the phrase in our campaigning – particularly in relation to the mass action we are planning for the British Museum in February, which will join the dots between BP sponsorship, colonialism, and the climate crisis. RMF replied to us to say:
“As the revolutionary movement, built on three cardinal pillars (Pan Africanism, Black Consciousness & Black Radical Feminism) Rhodes Must Fall (RMF) supports any initiative that seeks to undermine colonialism and its institutionalized global racism.
“We stand behind repatriation of Africa’s stolen objects and sacred human remains that were stolen from their graves by white colonial racists who masqueraded as ‘scientists’ and champions of ‘progress’ during the darkest hours of colonialism. We call on the British Museum and other museums in the countries of the Global North to return the mortal remains of our African ancestors, who are still locked in Museological prisons as ‘specimens’ earmarked for race ‘science’
“We demand that these museums publish their collection inventory of African objects and human remains they stole from Africa and other colonies so that we know how many they have and how we can repatriate them them back to where they were taken from.”
We therefore use the #BPMustFall hashtag with the understanding that we will raise these issues and share this message as part of our mass action in February. We’re hugely grateful to RMF for this permission and for the powerful and important work they do.