Greenpeace climbs British Museum on opening day of BP-sponsored “Sunken cities” exhibition

Publication date: 19th May 2016

London, 19 May 2016 – Greenpeace activists are scaling the British Museum in protest at oil giant BP’s sponsorship of a new blockbuster exhibition. The climbers are hanging seven huge banners down the front columns of the museum. The banners carry the names of cities and regions struck by flooding and climate change disasters.

The ‘Sunken Cities’ showcase – which opened this morning – displays artefacts recovered from two ancient cities submerged under the Mediterranean. But in what campaigners call ‘a stunning irony’ the exhibition is being used to promote oil company BP.

A total of 85 Greenpeace activists are involved in today’s action, which has rebranded the exhibition ‘Sinking Cities’. Environmental campaigners are calling on the British Museum to end its partnership with BP. Earlier this year, a long-running sponsorship deal between BP and Tate ended after a six-year campaign by artists and activists concerned by the association with a company whose actions contribute to extreme weather, destructive storms and rising seas (1).

Greenpeace Campaigner Elena Polisano is outside the British Museum. She said:

“The British Museum is an institution traditionally devoted to education, research and discovery, whereas BP’s focus is on building an oil-dependent culture. The only research and discovery they are interested in is finding more of the fossil fuels that are warming our planet and raising sea levels.”

The 27-foot-long banners cover seven of the famous columns at the entrance to the Museum. They carry the names of New Orleans, Manila, and Maldives, as well as those of UK towns hit by devastating floods in the past, such as Boscastle and Hebden Bridge. There are also two banners that mimic the publicity materials for the exhibition, swapping pictures of the sunken cities with those of recent flooding in West Yorkshire below the words ‘The BP exhibition Sinking Cities – Flooding Our World’.

A recent investigation revealed that BP played a significant part in decisions over the content of major British Museum exhibitions (2). Documents obtained via a Freedom of Information (FOI) request contained evidence that the oil giant was consulted on curatorial decisions on exhibitions that held strategic political and commercial value for BP. The company’s funding amounts to just one percent of the Museum’s annual income (3).

Elena Polisano added:

“BP sponsors the British Museum to clean up its image, burnish its reputation and secure political access. It wants to keep digging up fossil fuels well into this century. It even wants to continue drilling in the Arctic. And now it has its logo on an exhibition about cities lost to rising seas. It’s a stunning irony.”

She continued:

“Sunken cities aren’t a thing of the past, they’re happening now, and if BP gets its way they will come to define our future. Whole nations like the Maldives may disappear under water due to climate change. It’s damaging to the Museum’s reputation to shelter BP in this way. Oil is poisoning our air, warming our world, and polluting our rivers and oceans. It is our present and future heritage that we must preserve. Oil is fast becoming the new tobacco. This deal needs to end.”

Hartwig Fischer, the new director of the institution, will announce if the museum decides to renew the sponsorship or walk away from the controversial agreement. Last month, artists, scientists and politicians signed a joint letter expressing their concern and asking the new director to end the ‘out of touch’ partnership with the oil firm (4). Some of the signatories included Prof Anne Glover (Vice-principal at Aberdeen University) writer Naomi Klein and actors Emma Thompson and Mark Ruffalo.

Last weekend, the Sainsbury family, whose trusts have given millions of pounds to the British Museum, came out against the BP deal, stating in a letter: “while governments in Paris committed to transition away from fossil fuels, BP remains a barrier to progress” (5)



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