Today, the British Museum received a guerrilla re-branding from activists urging it to drop its sponsorship deal with BP, an agreement now in talks for possible renewal next year. In a striking display, 14 members of Greenpeace scaled the museum entryway’s massive columns, unfurling seven large banners to protest the museum’s current BP-sponsored exhibition, Sunken cities. The show, which opened to the public today, displays objects from the ancient Egyptian cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus, submerged thousands of years ago due to shifts in climate; the irony here, of course, is that the sinking of cities remains a reality today, and BP’s business in oil and gas contributes to the occurrence of such disasters.
Five of the banners spelled out the names of cities previously victim or vulnerable to flooding, including New Orleans, Manila, and Hebden Bridge, a British town that experienced devastating floods last December. The other two banners bookending them riffed on the exhibition’s name and funding source, reading, “Sinking cities” and “climate change supported by BP.” Greenpeace has also created an online petition calling for the museum to end its partnership with the oil giant. As of press time, it has received over 9,000 signatures.
“The British Museum dedicates itself to learning, discovery, and the conservation of human cultures, but the only discoveries BP seeks are more fossil fuels to dig up and burn, which are already polluting our air and warming our world,” Greenpeace activists said in a statement. “We’re here today taking a stand because of the irony of an oil company sponsoring an exhibition whose name practically spells out impacts of climate change. What were they thinking?”
Police led the protestors away when they descended, but the banners remained. The museum closed between 10am and 2pm UK time, but the decision “was taken to ensure the safety of the Museum’s visitors,” as a spokeswoman for the institution told Hyperallergic.
This week is shaping up to be a particularly rocky one for the museum: the Greenpeace protest arrives just two days after art activist group BP or Not BP? carried out two interventions during the Sunken cities press and VIP openings. As Hyperallergic previously reported, demonstrators on Tuesday placed a large installation inside the museum and staged a performance to highlight not only the effects BP’s business has on climate change but also the company’s history of striking deals with Egypt’s repressive governments. BP or Not BP?’s Jess Worth confirmed that the Greenpeace action was “totally separate, though we are thrilled that Greenpeace has joined in the campaign, ratcheting the pressure up a good few more notches!”
Hyperallergic reached out to the British museum for comment regarding the string of protests and received the following statement:
The British Museum is exceptionally grateful to BP for their loyal and on-going support which has allowed the Museum to bring world cultures to a global audience through hugely popular exhibitions and their associated public programs.
Discussions regarding the renewal of the partnership are continuing.