C: Diana More
C: Diana More

Oil giant BP’s controversial sponsorship of the British Museum was once again put under the spotlight over the weekend, when some 100 activists from the theatre group, “BP or not BP?” protested against the company’s current exhibition: “Scythians: warriors of ancient Siberia”.

In what the performers labelled an ice-themed “Freezemob” performance, rather than “flashmob”, they unveiled huge “cracks” in the huge white marble floor to “bring the threatened permafrost into the oil-sponsored museum”.

At the heart of the crack was the BP logo (see image).

The protest / performance, which had been widely advertised on social media, started with some 50 people dressed as ice – in white, blue and silver – participating in a musical performance that involved “freezing and thawing” their way around the museum, while singing various songs and carols, which included the lyrics:

Don’t burn the future
By melting the past
Freeze out the logos
BP’s time has passed
Don’t burn the future
By melting the past

They also sang, to the tune of the Christmas carol, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen: “Arrest these oily gentlemen, let nothing you delay, for they have drilled and spilled and killed and still do to this day. Corruption, greed and sponsorship – the planet pays the cost, and BP makes profits from oil, profits from oil, and BP makes profits from oil.”

BP has come under sustained pressure from campaigners who have vowed to continue protesting until the British Museum drops the oil sponsorship. The oil giant has a long history of sponsoring British Museum exhibitions that not only greenwash its image, but also further its geopolitical interests. Hence the ongoing protests: It was their 30th unsanctioned performance in the museum in the last five years.

BP or not to BP? which is part of the Art Not Oil coalition, also argues that the British Museum is engaging in a form of climate denial by allowing BP to sponsor this specific exhibition, when the future of Scythian archaeology is being directly threatened by climate change.

They argue that hundreds of unexcavated Scythian graves in the Altai mountains are at risk from melting permafrost caused by climate change and yet this major threat to Scythian archaeology is not mentioned in the oil-sponsored exhibition. According to the group: “This highly suspicious omission inspired the performers to bring the issue into the space – with people, visuals and song.”

The performance reflects increasing awareness and criticism of oil sponsorship of the arts in the UK and Europe. For example, the London-based National Portrait Gallery has been challenged that its BP sponsorship deal contravenes the gallery’s Ethical Sponsorship Policy.

A recent winner of the Gallery’s “BP Young Artist Award” publicly donated a portion of the prize money to Greenpeace, to proptest against BP’s involvement.

Shell has also been the target of protests in the Netherlands, when the Fossil Free Culture Netherlands created an “oil-soaked, dried-up, burnt-down forest” inside the Shell-sponsored Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam

Helen Glynn, from BP or not BP? said “Our paper cracks can be easily removed from the museum floor, but BP’s impact on the permafrost – and the global climate – is much more permanent. We’re proud to be celebrating our 30th unsanctioned performance in the British Museum”.

Glynn added: “The movement for fossil-free culture is going from strength to strength, and we’re ready to carry out another 30 performances in the museum if that’s what’s needed to end its destructive partnership with BP.”