BREAKING: We’ve snuck a huge Trojan Horse into the British Museum!

Photo by Hugh Warwick

A huge Trojan Horse, emblazoned with the logo of British Museum sponsor BP, was snuck into the museum’s courtyard at 7:30 this morning. The wooden horse, which is 4 metres tall and can seat 10 people inside, was crowdfunded and built by ‘actorvist’ theatre group BP or not BP?, and pulled in by a group of supporters with flags reading “BP Must Fall”. They intend to stay in the courtyard – inside the gates but outside the museum building – overnight, in order to welcome those joining the ‘BP Must Fall’ mass action tomorrow, when over 1000 people will descend on the museum for a day of performance and protest.

The arrival of the Horse marks the start of a ‘bold but necessary’ escalation in BP or not BP?’s campaign against BP’s sponsorship of the arts. The huge artwork is a direct response to the museum’s current BP-sponsored ‘Troy’ exhibition, with smoke flowing from its nostrils, glowing red eyes and a disturbing apocalyptic soundscape emerging from a sound system inside. Built from reclaimed timber and discarded rope, the horse is powered by solar-charged batteries and equipped to enable people to stay inside it overnight. It was brought in safely through a museum side-gate early this morning with the activists making clear early on that it posed no risk to the museum or its staff. They handed the museum a letter [1] formally requesting that the horse be allowed to stay in place until tomorrow, and are now in negotiations with security about this. The performers had no inside help from museum staff to get the horse in.

The letter to the museum. Photo by BP or not BP?

The British Museum is facing increasing pressure over its oil sponsor, as the climate crisis escalates and more and more organisations are severing ties with their fossil fuel funders. Last year the Royal Shakespeare Company, National Theatre, National Galleries Scotland and Edinburgh Science Festival all announced they would no longer take money from oil companies in the face of the climate emergency, and last week the Guardian announced it was stopping taking fossil fuel advertising.

BP is under fire for its continued massive extraction of oil and gas, despite the science telling us that in order to avoid total climate breakdown we need to end new drilling, leave fossil fuels in the ground and rapidly transition to clean energy over the next decade. While BP’s new CEO Bernard Looney is making a much-hyped announcement about the company’s future approach to climate change next week, it is unlikely to fundamentally change the fact that the vast majority of BP’s investment (currently 97%) is in oil and gas and it plans to increase its fossil fuel extraction by 20% over the next decade. BP also faces criticism for its human rights record and its support for repressive regimes, including in Turkey, where the company recently completed a controversial gas pipeline just 75 miles from the site of ancient Troy [2].

Photo by BP or not BP?

Helen Glynn, from BP or not BP? said:

‘The Troy exhibition has inspired us to create this magnificent beast, because the Trojan Horse is the perfect metaphor for BP sponsorship. On its surface the sponsorship looks like a generous gift, but inside lurks death and destruction. This is our 40th performance intervention at the British Museum: for eight years our peaceful creative protests have been dismissed and the museum has continued to back BP. Now the planet is literally burning. So we invite everyone to come along to our mass action tomorrow and make sure the museum can no longer ignore the fact that, in order to have a liveable planet, BP Must Fall.’

Keep an eye on @Drop_bp on twitter and the hashtag #BPmustfall for latest updates on the horse.

Photo by Hugh Warwick

[1] The letter says:

Dear British Museum,

We would like to request that you allow us to bring our Trojan Horse into the museum courtyard and that you allow it to stay until tomorrow, the day of our ‘BP Must Fall’ mass action. The Troy exhibition has inspired us to create this beautiful work of art because the Trojan Horse is the perfect metaphor for your BP sponsorship deal. On its surface, the sponsorship might appear to be a generous gift, but inside lurks death and destruction. You have let BP into the museum, despite the damage it is doing to the world. Now, we request you let our horse in too.

Hundreds of people have helped to crowdfund this horse because they feel so strongly that the museum should not be promoting and giving legitimacy to an oil company when we are in the midst of a climate emergency. The museum has previously said that it will facilitate peaceful protest and we want to work with you to make sure that our interactive artwork enhances tomorrow’s event. We are confident that this can be done without making the duties of your security team and front of house staff unmanageable.

Our intention is for the horse to act as a ‘welcome desk’ for our mass protest tomorrow, so that when people arrive they can easily find us and get instructions for how the protest will work, helping the day to run as smoothly and safely as possible. We do not want to block any entrances or cause any disruption to the flow of people coming in or out of the museum, so we believe the best place for this magnificent beast is within the courtyard where there is plenty of room.

Unlike the Greeks in the legend of Troy, we have no further plans for the horse other than for it to remain stationary in the courtyard for the duration of the protest. Then we will take it away.

We acknowledge that this is an unusual request, but as your chairman has said, climate change is ‘the great issue of our time’. Business as usual must change. This will be our 40th performance at the museum since our group began in 2012. It has been disheartening over the intervening years to feel that the museum is refusing to engage on the most vital challenge facing the peoples of the world today, particularly those communities whose stories you seek to share in your exhibitions and that are already being impacted by our changing climate. Allowing the horse in would be a powerful demonstration that you are now willing to listen and engage with the people, not just the polluters.

Yours sincerely,

BP or not BP?

[21] BP has been working with the Turkish government to build the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) through Turkey. The pipeline was completed in July 2019.

The pipeline runs about 75 miles from the site of ancient Troy, and is part of a complex of pipelines called the Southern Gas Corridor, intended to bring fossil gas from Azerbaijan to Europe. The final part – the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) from Turkey via Greece and Albania to Italy – is still under construction, and has faced serious protests along its route.

When a previous BP pipeline (the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline) was built in this region from 2003 – 2005, there was an organised international campaign linked up with activists on the ground to oppose it. People in Turkey were especially concerned about militarisation and land grabs along the route of the pipeline where it came into North East Turkey.

However, the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline has not experienced similar protest on its route through Turkey. Campaigners believe this is because of the anti-protest crackdowns of the repressive government of Turkish President Erdoğan, which has made people too scared to speak up this time. This means that BP is, once again, benefiting from a relationship with a repressive regime that is silencing protest and thus making it easier for BP to build its destructive and polluting projects.

The Southern Gas Corridor, if completed, could lock Europe into increased fossil gas use for decades to come.

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