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Photography Diana More

Activists protest at the British Museum against its ties to BP

The oil company continues to sponsor multiple UK arts institutions, despite opposition from climate change groups

Around 350 people associated with the activist group BP or Not to BP? occupied the British Museum, in a protest against its partnership with the energy multinational BP. The demonstrators gathered inside the museum’s Great Court, where they unfurled banners that highlighted the energy company’s support for British involvement the Iraq War and its subsequent exploitation of Iraq’s oil fields.

At the weekend, demonstrators were specifically protesting BP’s current sponsorship of the British Museum’s main exhibition, I Am Ashurbanipal, which features ancient artefacts from the Middle East. They unfurled banners saying “crisis colonialism” and “stolen objects”, along with a banner that quoted a Foreign Office official, who wrote in an email before the 2003 invasion that “Iraq is the big oil prospect. BP are desperate to get in there,” according to artnet News.

The British Museum renewed its relationship with BP in 2016, in a deal that does not expire until 2022. “We have a simple message. Drop BP,” the activists tweeted from inside the museum, using the hashtag #NoWarNoWarming.

Pressure has recently mounted on arts institutions to reject funding from unethical multinational corporations. Last week, US art photographer and activist Nan Goldin declared she would boycott the National Portrait Gallery following news that it would benefit from a £1 million donation from the Sackler Foundation, an American pharmaceutical company linked to addictive prescription painkillers.  

Although standing by its partnership with BP, the British museum allowed the occupation to take place on the day. “The British Museum respects other people’s right to express their views and allows peaceful protest onsite at the museum as long as there is no risk to the museum’s collection, staff or visitors,” a general statement read.

The museum also defended itself from protesters’ claims that artefacts in its I Am Ashurbanipal exhibition were looted during the 19th century. “The objects from the British Museum’s collection in I am Ashurbanipal exhibition were collected and excavated with the full knowledge and permission of the Ottoman government, who gave permission for the objects to be exported.”