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British Museum BP protest
photography Amy Scaife

Activists with a Trojan horse protest the British Museum’s ties to BP

Demonstrators associated with BP or not BP? have taken over the museum, highlighting the oil giant’s role in the climate crisis and effects on indigenous populations

Yesterday (February 7) climate activists sneaked a 13 foot tall Trojan horse into the grounds of the British Museum, and that was just the beginning of their protest against the institution’s relationship with BP. 

Today, the demonstration – run by the activist group BP or not BP? – has expanded into a takeover of the museum, timed to coincide with the museum’s new exhibition, Troy: Myth and Reality, which is sponsored by the massive oil company.

Hence, the wooden horse branded with the BP logo, which activists wheeled into the British Museum courtyard before it opened yesterday morning. “The Trojan Horse is the perfect metaphor for your BP sponsorship deal,” says a letter from the activists to the museum. “On its surface, the sponsorship might appear to be a generous gift, but inside lurks death and destruction.” 

“You have let BP into the museum, despite the damage it is doing to the world. Now, we request you let our horse in too.”

Following a subsequent petition that reached thousands of signatures, the horse was allowed to stay on the grounds overnight, occupied by the activists, who were there to welcome today’s crowds. As darkness fell, the message “BP Must Fall” was projected onto the building’s facade.

Since this morning, the museum takeover has included talks with prominent voices from indigenous communities affected by BP’s operations, including the West Papuan activist Raki Ap, alongside theatrical performances and an “unauthorised decolonial tour”.

A statement released by BP or not BP? cites the oil giant’s “colonial legacy” – as well as its perpetuation of the climate crisis through continued investment in fossil fuels – among the reasons arts and culture institutions should distance themselves from the company. This idea has been reflected at the protest, with attendees chanting and singing the “BP must fall” slogan.

The group has already staged protests at the museum in the past, and has also (successfully) targeted the Royal Shakespeare Company, which finally dropped its ties to BP in late 2019, saying: “young people are now saying clearly to us that the BP sponsorship is putting a barrier between them and their wish to engage with the RSC.”

Unsurprisingly, a large part of today’s protest at the museum includes young campaigners – who are increasingly making their voices heard in public demonstrations – but the private members’ room notably also showed solidarity. So have the museum’s staff in the past, with one trustee, the Egyptian writer Ahdaf Soueif, resigning over the institution’s silence on BP sponsorship and the repatriation of looted artifacts.

Tonight, key figures from the protest will lead the “third act” of the ongoing protest by having casts taken from their hands, feet, and shoulders in the closed museum’s Great Court. These – along with casts of other performers’ body parts, 100 in total – will comprise a new artwork titled Monument, which they hope to leave in the museum for visitors to encounter tomorrow.

View the beginning of this process, along with more scenes from the protest, below.