Mass BP action at British Museum ends with creative occupation of four galleries

Last night (April 23rd), we occupied four rooms inside the British Museum after hours in protest against the museum’s controversial sponsor, the oil giant BP. Our performers smuggled in a huge, 10-metre version of the oil company’s logo, made from wood and fabric, which we dramatically “dismantled” in a hundreds-strong performance in the museum’s Great Court at 4pm.

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The logo from above. Photo by BP or not BP?

We then took the pieces of the logo to four different galleries in the museum and refused to leave, occupying the rooms and transforming the pieces of logo into artwork that “represents the future we need, beyond BP”. Around 50 performers stayed in the museum until 7pm, two hours after closing time, despite requests to leave from museum security. At 7pm, the performers left their artwork – which ranged from fabric collages to three-dimensional windmills – inside the museum as a reminder to the management to end the BP sponsorship.

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Transforming the BP logo after hours. Photo by Ron Fassbender.

The action took place this weekend because the British Museum is actively deciding whether to renew its current deal with BP

Yesterday’s protest – named “Make BP History” – began at 1pm, when hundreds of people entered the British Museum and began creating multiple protests throughout the building. Actions took place throughout the afternoon, challenging the museum’s BP sponsorship deal and also highlighting objects stolen by the British Empire that we believe must be returned to their communities of origin. Participants stuck up signs around the building, hung banners off balconies, gave speeches in the galleries and leafleted museum visitors, to highlight BP’s plans to drill for more oil and gas than the world can afford to burn – as well as the oil giant’s political lobbying [1] and relationship with repressive regimes [2]. 

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One of many small protests that filled the museum, this one at the Rapa Nui statue Hoa Hakananai’a. The Rapa Nui people have called for its return, but the museum is refusing to do so. Photo by Ron Fassbender.
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A banner drop inside the museum by UKSCN London, one of many protests within the museum that afternoon. Photo by Ron Fassbender.

With around 300 participants of all ages, this was the largest protest at the museum since before the COVID pandemic. 

Cameron Joshi (@cameron_joshi) speaks about BP, Iran and colonialism inside the Ancient Iran gallery of the museum.

At 4pm, a team of performers revealed the 10-metre BP logo we had smuggled into the museum – complete with the words “DROP BP” in its centre – and led the crowd in a song that included the refrain:

“The sun is setting on BP, Make BP history”

(The full lyrics of the song can be seen below)

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Performers lead the crowd in song. Photo by Kristian Buus.

Pieces of the giant logo were animated by the participants, rising and falling in time with the song. The performance was carried out successfully despite museum security confiscating some pieces of wood and other art materials from protesters on the way into the building.

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Photo by BP or not BP?

Performers playing the role of five other arts institutions that have ended their sponsorship deals with BP – Tate, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Portrait Gallery, the Edinburgh International Festival and Scottish Ballet – dramatically ripped apart their own BP logos as part of the performance. This highlighted the fact that the British Museum is one of very few UK cultural organisations that still partners with a fossil fuel company. At least 14 UK cultural institutions have ended their sponsorship deals with oil companies in the last 6 years [3].

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The Royal Shakespeare Company rips apart the BP logo. Photo by Ron Fassbender.

The giant BP logo was then pulled apart by the performers and taken to the four occupied rooms to be creatively “transformed”.

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The giant logo is pulled apart. Photo by Ron Fassbender.

Deborah Locke, one of our members who took part in yesterday’s action, said:

“Renewing this sponsorship deal would send a terrible message, making an oil giant seem acceptable when we need to urgently shift away from this disastrous industry. We know from the latest UN climate report that we can extract no new fossil fuels to have any hope of avoiding the worst climate scenarios. But BP is planning to spend £23 billion on new oil and gas fields between now and 2030. Despite its vague claims to be going green, BP’s business plan is a roadmap to climate collapse.”

The action took place on the tenth anniversary of our first ever action, a stage invasion challenging BP sponsorship of the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2012. Since then, we have held nearly 70 protest performances in oil-sponsored arts spaces, more than half of which have been in the British Museum.

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Photo by Kristian Buus

Deborah Locke also said: 

“Hundreds of archaeologists, historians, scientists and other museum professionals have already called on the museum to stop promoting BP, including a formal submission to trustees this week arguing that renewing the sponsorship would go against the museum’s own policies. As the climate crisis deepens, public anger at the fossil fuel industry will only grow. Renewing the BP deal would do huge damage to the British Museum’s reputation, and open the door to ever more protests in the future.”

All participants were asked to take a lateral flow test before attending, and to wear masks inside the museum (unless exempt).

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Some of the art created from the logo. Photo by BP or not BP?

The full lyrics of the song are:

Chorus

The sun is setting on BP

Make BP history

Verses

The sun is rising for us to be free

From fossil fuel dependency

The sun is rising so we can be

Standing together in unity

The sun is rising to hear our call

To stand together before we fall

The sun is rising to greet a new day

Of hope and ideas to change our ways

The sun is rising to shine a light

On oily darkness and endless night

The sun is rising so we can see

The path to greener alternatives

The sun is rising and always will

For solar power and lower bills

The sun is rising like it always does

To rekindle our spirits and warm our hearts

The sun is shining and so are we

Standing in solidarity

[1] A study in 2019 found that BP spent an average of £40 million per year on lobbying and advertising designed to slow and obstruct climate policies. See https://influencemap.org/report/How-Big-Oil-Continues-to-Oppose-the-Paris-Agreement-38212275958aa21196dae3b76220bddc

[2] For example, BP has provided around £600 million to Putin’s government since the 2014 invasion of Crimea: https://www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/fossil-gas/energy-companies-100bn-russia/

[3] Summary graphic of cultural institutions that have dropped oil sponsorship can be seen at https://twitter.com/drop_BP/status/1502636229627727876 . A more detailed list with references can be seen at https://cultureunstained.org/successes-for-the-movement/

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Photo by Ron Fassbender.






One thought on “Mass BP action at British Museum ends with creative occupation of four galleries

  1. Brilliant action in the British museum. Well done for making such a positive, artistic, enjoyable , meaningful action against BP accessible to the public in so many forms. Good luck in the future and hoping the museum will see sense and drop BP sponsorship.

    Like

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