Creative “sing-in” at British Museum, targeting BP-sponsored exhibition

Photo by Ron Fassbender.

On Sunday 11th December at 12pm, we took to the British Museum to perform a specially written protest song in response to BP’s sponsorship of the current blockbuster exhibition “Hieroglyphs: Unlocking Ancient Egypt”.

We took over a space inside the museum’s Great Court, calling on the Museum’s Director not to renew the oil company’s toxic sponsorship deal when it formally comes to an end in February when the exhibition closes.

Opening chants included the message: “The exhibition claims to celebrate Egyptian culture, but it is funded by people who destroy that culture.” Then two professional singers, accompanied by BP or Not BP? activists, sang a protest song about “a sponsorship signed with blue blood ink, to sell the future for a stolen past, as the present is running out very fast.”

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

The songwriter said:

“The British Museum and BP are trying to use culture and arts to improve their image, but culture and art will fight back. Many of the people who make art here, in Egypt, and elsewhere, care about climate justice; writing music that expresses this as a means of resistance feels especially poignant.”

BP has a history of partnering with repressive regimes around the world. It has partnered closely with successive regimes in Egypt, while anti-protest laws introduced by President Sisi have limited the role of civil society and aided the expansion of BP’s fossil fuel extraction. In the town of Idku, community resistance successfully saw off the construction of a BP gas processing plant [1]. However, community opposition then became near impossible [2] following the introduction of President’s Sisi’s repressive anti-protest law and construction went ahead. Earlier this year, BP’s CEO praised President Sisi’s “wise leadership and ambitious vision” in Egypt; disregarding laws that have imprisoned an estimated 60,000 political prisoners in what Human Rights Watch calls a “relentless crackdown on civil society.” [3] 

Photo by Ron Fassbender.

Lydia Ayame Hiraide, a member of BP or not BP? taking part in the performance, said: 

“BP’s involvement in extracting new fossil gas in Egypt, aided by the state’s repression of protestors, is completely unacceptable. By accepting BP’s dirty money, the British Museum is effectively partnering with an oil giant that devastates Egypt whilst pretending to celebrate Egyptian history and culture. But what about the rights of the Egyptian people today? What about the integrity and their autonomy over their land? What about the repression of dissenting voices, like Alaa Abd El-Fattah? 

This must be the last BP sponsored exhibition at the British Museum. I’m taking part in this action because there is no place for fossil fuels in our arts and culture sector. The British Museum must drop BP now!”

Photo by Ron Fassbender.

Documents disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act and made public by Culture Unstained earlier this year revealed that Museum Director Hartwig Fischer had met with BP in September last year to discuss, ‘‘the different options for bp’s support post-Spring 2023’ [4]. However, the Museum has remained tight-lipped about the status of any negotiations that may have taken place since or how a decision on any future relationship with BP will be taken. At the Museum’s Annual Trustees’ Dinner last month, Chair George Osborne told attendees, ‘Our goal is to be a net zero carbon museum – no longer a destination for climate protest but instead an example of climate solution.’ [5]

With its partners, BP is responsible for producing around 60% of Egypt’s fossil gas and is now extracting close to 1 billion cubic feet per day of gas from its West Nile Delta gas fields [6]. The International Energy Agency has said there can be no new investment in oil, gas and coal if we are to reach net zero by 2050. BP says it has an ambition to go ‘net zero’ by 2050 but was awarded new exploration blocks in Egypt just a few weeks ago, and its investments in fossil fuels continue to far outweigh those in low carbon energy [7]. 

Photo by Ron Fassbender.

The following text was read out at the action:

This must be the last BP-sponsored exhibition in the British Museum.

We’re here today to tell the British Museum – do not renew the art-washing deal!

No more lobbying for death in these rooms.

BP is driving climate breakdown and partners with repressive regimes across the world. 

This year, BP’s CEO Bernard Looney praised President Sisi’s “wise leadership and ambitious vision” in Egypt, ignoring the repressive laws that have imprisoned an estimated 60,000 political prisoners.

This exhibition claims to celebrate Egyptian culture, but it is funded by people who destroy Egypt’s culture. At its centre is a stolen object: the Rosetta Stone. Engraved on the stone itself is the phrase “It should be in the hands of those who live in the country.”

The Rosetta Stone should be in the hands of those who live in the country!

The right not to extract oil and gas should be in the hands of those who live in the country!

Freedom and equality should be in the hands of those who live in the country!

SONG BEGINS

Photo by Ron Fassbender.

In the city of Idku on the shore of the Med

A voice full of dread is crushed with a 

Fist full of oil and gas: 

BP’s cash for Egypt’s dictators- 

hungry for power keeping a tight grip

On writers and freedom fighters, thirsty for rights

extracted and sold by the barrel

But Rosetta proclaims so very bluntly:

It should be in the hands

Of those who live in the country

From here unto Idku rises a stink

Of sponsorship signed with blue blood ink

To sell the future for a stolen past.

Mingling and lobbying and having a blast

As the present is running out very fast

But Rosetta proclaims so very bluntly:

It should be in the hands

Of those who live in the country

The men who back regimes of fear

Pumping billions every year

Each rebellion they try to steer

Towards less freedom and more tears

Wash their conscience right now right here

Amongst the stolen art from far and near

But Rosetta proclaims so very bluntly:

It should be in the hands

Of those who live in the country

What about the museum’s stolen art?

It should be in the hands

Of those who live in the country

What about the choice to not extract?

It should be in the hands

Of those who live in the country

What about the right to fight for rights?

It should be in the hands

Of those who live in the country

What about freedom and equality?

It should be in the hands

Of those who live in the country

What about the bronzes, the Moai, what about the Pantheon, the rosette stone and all of the colonial collection of Hans Sloane?

It should be in the hands

Of those who live in the country

[1] https://platformlondon.org/2013/06/25/winning-against-the-odds-how-an-egyptian-community-stopped-bp-in-its-tracks/

[2] https://www.behindthelogos.org/crushing-protest-in-idku-egypt/

[3] https://dawnmena.org/egypt-sisis-pardon-decision-excludes-countrys-60000-political-prisoners/

https://www.hrw.org/tag/egypt-crackdown-civil-society

https://theintercept.com/2022/10/07/egypt-cop27-climate-prisoners-alaa/

[4] https://cultureunstained.org/2022/02/17/british-museum-seeking-new-bp-sponsorship-despite-opposition-from-archaeologists/

[5] https://www.britishmuseum.org/sites/default/files/2022-11/Speech_by_George_Osborne_Annual_Trustees_Dinner_British_Museum_2022.pdf

[6] https://www.bp.com/en/global/corporate/what-we-do/bp-worldwide/bp-in-egypt.html
[7] https://www.bp.com/en/global/corporate/news-and-insights/press-releases/bp-awarded-new-exploration-blocks-in-egypts-offshore-nile-delta.html


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