- Written by London Reporter London Reporter
- Published: 21 November 2019 21 November 2019
Tonight, the British Museum was forced to relocate the VIP launch of its BP-sponsored ‘Troy: Myth and reality’ exhibition after arts activists occupied the entrances to the museum’s exhibition space in a protest against its partnership with oil giant BP. Members of the group BP or not BP? refused to leave the museum when it closed to the public and instead, began converting themselves into Troy-themed “living statues”, remaining in the doorways as guests - including BP staff, museum trustees and management - arrived for the high-profile event.
Taking inspiration from the exhibition, performers used costumes, props and make-up to convert five of their number into statues based on Greek mythology and the story of the Trojan Wars. Alongside Helen of Troy, Achilles, Zeus and Athena, they added a fifth statue of their own invention - the god Petroleus - who wore a BP logo and an oil slick for a robe.
As VIP guests arrived, the statues then processed to the museum’s main entrance, where Petroleus proceeded to drench the others with oil, accompanied by a Greek Chorus singing, ‘We foresee the fall of BP!’. While the launch event was forced to take place in an adjacent gallery, some guests were later able to view the exhibition but only after an hour’s delay and by awkwardly entering through the gift shop.
Sophie McIntosh, a performer with the group said:
‘BP’s sponsorship of the British Museum is, ironically, just like the famous Trojan Horse highlighted in the exhibition. The company sponsors the museum in order to look like a generous gift-giver that cares about culture but, in reality, it’s a cynical attempt to deflect attention from something far more sinister. As the climate crisis intensifies, BP is still 97% invested in fossil fuels and plans to spend billions searching for new oil that we can’t afford to burn. But with the RSC and the Scottish National Galleries now cutting their ties to BP, these cultural sponsorship deals are rapidly becoming BP’s Achilles heel.’
Yesterday, 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 was attending the launch this evening and supported the protest, confronted British Museum trustee Muriel Gray and made a heartfelt plea to her to rethink the partnership with BP, a video of which has now been posted on Twitter.
BP Accused of Distracting Attention From Massive Polluting & Human Rights Abuses
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The campaigners accuse BP of sponsoring the British Museum and other cultural institutions in order to distract from its pollution, corruption and human rights abuses. BP plans to expand its oil and gas extraction by 20% over the next ten years - a business plan that is at odds with the goals set out in the Paris Climate Accord. According to Stephen Corrigan from BP or not BP?:
“Like its projects in Egypt, West Papua, Argentina and elsewhere, BP is benefiting from repressive government policies in Turkey that silence local opposition to its operations. This is helping BP to build oil and gas infrastructure that could lock us into using fossil fuels for decades to come, at a moment when we need to be urgently shifting away from these polluting energy sources. According to the climate science, we cannot afford to build any new oil or gas infrastructure if we want a decent chance of avoiding climate breakdown – and yet BP is planning to spend tens of billions of pounds on these kinds of projects over the next ten years.”
Leveraging British Institutions To Promote Oil Interests
BP has previously used its sponsorship of the British Museum to help strike new deals, with previous exhibitions allowing BP’s executives to rub shoulders at VIP events with Egyptian, Russian and Mexican government officials, at key strategic moments for the company and its oil interests in these countries.
BP also has business interests connected to the new Troy exhibition. In July 2019. the oil company completed work on the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline, a major gas transport line running across Turkey that passes just 75 miles from the location of ancient Troy.