In February, 1500 people joined us to protest BP’s sponsorship of the British Museum. We peacefully occupied the building and grounds for three days to shine a spotlight on the oil company’s impacts around the world, and the ways in which the museum’s own history and that of its sponsor were born out of colonialism and Empire.
Photos by Ron Fassbender.
But as the British Museum reopens today, we will not be protesting. We know that staff at the museum are facing intense pressures as they attempt to reopen the museum in a way that is safe for all. Out of respect for the museum’s workers, we did not protest throughout the lockdown period and have chosen not to take any further actions inside the museum at this time.
However, when the museum’s next major exhibition – ‘Arctic: culture and climate’ – opens to the public in October, we will bring our call for climate justice inside the museum once again while also taking into consideration the safety of visitors and staff. For decades, BP has drilled in the Alaskan Arctic despite opposition from Indigenous communities and has directly damaged the Arctic environment. BP has profited from a pursuit of oil which has pushed the world deeper into climate crisis and accelerated the melting of Arctic ice which is now threatening the traditions, livelihoods and ongoing existence of Indigenous communities, both in the Arctic and around the world.
Photos by Diana More.
If the museum is to genuinely address its colonial origins and the ways in which that attitude still manifests today, it must go beyond making gestures by moving statues and genuinely respond to the legitimate calls of those communities who want objects returned. If the museum’s leaders are to go beyond warm words about race, they must adopt antiracist policies and commit to the process of decolonisation. And if the museum is to engage with climate change in any serious way, it cannot host exhibitions examining climate impacts while continuing to promote those that caused them.
Museums are not neutral. From racial justice to climate justice, the British Museum’s leaders must decide where they stand on these issues and who it is they stand with. We will continue to hold them to account.
BP or not BP?