Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism.
A press release dropped today, announcing the next slated action by activist group BP or Not BP? in its ongoing protest campaign against the British Museum’s involvement with British Petroleum (BP). The theater group is inviting public participation in its forthcoming campaign, which takes specific aim at the opening weekend of the new BP-sponsored exhibition about the ancient city of Troy. BP or not BP? intends to replicate the mythic “Siege of Troy” by staging an action at the British Museum. The group has framed this as a “mass creative takeover” and “reimagining” of the British Museum which will take place on Saturday, November 23. They invite public participation in both the protest action and a public crowdfunding campaign to raise money to build a giant Trojan Horse.
In its press release about the project, timed to coincide with the national Museums Association conference in Brighton, which starts today, Sarah Horne of BP or not BP? said: “It’s deeply ironic that BP is sponsoring an exhibition called Troy: Myth and Reality, because this sponsorship deal is essentially a Trojan Horse for BP’s real activities. Just like in the myth, BP pretends that it’s giving us a gift, when in reality it’s trying to smuggle its deadly climate-wrecking business plans past our defences.”
The group anticipates that this will be its largest action at the British Museum, surpassing a protest in February of this year, which brought hundreds to a sit-in protest over I am Ashurbanipal — then the museum’s main exhibition — which featured artifacts taken from modern-day Iraq during the Ottoman era. BP’s impact on climate change was also a stated cause for concern at that protest.
“This issue has seen a huge rise in interest over the last few months, with young people threatening to boycott arts organisations that take oil funding, 63,000 people signing our petition against oil sponsorship and one of the British Museum’s own trustees resigning over the issue,” said Horne, referring to the resignation of Ahdaf Soueif when she quit as a trustee in August 2019, due to her concerns over BP’s involvement with the museum and the museum’s refusal to drop them as a sponsor. “We believe a lot of people will want to join us to take over the museum on November 23rd, making this the largest protest the museum has ever seen.”
Massive props are all in a day’s work for BP or not BP? — the group has previously smuggled a Viking longship and a 40-foot sea monster into the British Museum. The use of one of mythology’s most famous props, the Trojan Horse, not only coincides with the museum’s exhibition, it points to concerns about the environmental impact of contemporary BP pipeline projects. 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. This pipeline was a joint project between BP and Turkey’s state-owned oil company and was built with Turkish President Erdoğan’s repressive anti-protest policies in place across the country, minimizing the risk of local opposition to the project.
Of course, in the story of Troy, the power of the Trojan Horse was that the occupants of Troy had no idea the fate that awaited them inside. With the announcement of this action, BP or not BP? cannily indicates that they are not the perpetrators of subterfuge; instead, for the sake of all our futures, museum-goers should be very wary of petroleum companies bearing gifts.