Activists who want to highlight the issue of climate change have taken their own version of the famous Trojan Horse to the British Museum. The protestors have done so to raise awareness of the museum’s reliance on sponsorship from BP, one of the world’s biggest oil and gas companies. The pressure group, known as BP Or Not BP?, managed to get the structure past the museum’s gates early one weekday morning in February and said that it hoped it would remain in place until a further protest could be staged.
Image: FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
The decision to sneak a Trojan Horse into the courtyard of one of London’s most visited museum attractions was taken to coincide with the latest exhibition to be staged there. ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’ is the name of a temporary exhibition which the British Museum hopes will be a major hit with visitors. However, the show is described as being ‘supported by BP’ which means that it has drawn criticism from many voices calling for an end to such financial associations between public institutions and corporate sponsors in the petrochemicals industry.
“The current exhibition has inspired us to create this magnificent beast,” said Helen Glynn, an activist who is a member of BP or not BP? The spokesperson for the theatrical protest group went on to add she thought the image of Trojan horse was the ideal way of explaining BP’s financial support for the museum sector as a whole. “On the surface, [it]… looks like it is a generous gift,” she said. “But inside death and destruction lurks.”
A Wider Protest
The protestors went on to ask the management team at the British Museum whether they would be permitted to keep the wooden horse in the museum’s courtyard by its main entrance until the following day. This is because BP or not BP? had also planned a larger demonstration on the weekend with more people expected to be in attendance, each making their feelings about oil and gas companies in the museum sector known. In a letter, the activists said that they expected lots of people to turn up to the demonstration because hundreds had already assisted with the project. The group claimed that the crowdfunding of the horse’s materials and construction was evidence of how widespread support for their campaign was. The letter to the British Museum also stated that many members of the public also feel strongly that the institution should not be promoting BP by accepting its sponsorship and that it was offering a false sense of public legitimacy to an oil company which was only really involved for public relations purposes.
According to the protestors, the issue with BP was made all the worse due to the world being in the middle of a climate emergency. “The museum has previously said that it will facilitate peaceful protests,” the letter read. “We want to work with [the museum]… to make sure that our interactive work of art will be able to enhance the demonstration.” Nevertheless, the museum said that it needed to take advice from the Metropolitan Police about the horse – which measures four metres in height and which can seat ten people inside – before it could possibly make any decision.
A spokesperson for the British Museum confirmed to the UK press that a small group of protesters had managed to get a wooden horse onto its site, an act which it described as trespassing. “We are currently awaiting advice from the police,” the museum said. The spokesperson went on to add that the museum regretted the action that had been taken which may mean visitor access is disrupted to the museum’s galleries.
The Horse Stays
As a result of the indecision about what to do about the wooden horse, which was emblazoned with the corporate logo of BP, two protesters elected to stay in it overnight so that it could not be removed without them being aware. Consequently, the weekend mass protest took place with the Trojan horse in situ. In what BP or Not BP? described as a “creative takeover” of the museum, over a thousand protestors descended upon the museum and took part in a range of different performances. These included spoken word routines, sing-songs and lectures given by campaigners from countries like West Papua and Senegal where BP conducts some of its work. Some of the protestors who attended the event dressed as classical statues in honour of the Trojan horse and greeted visitors to the museum, some of whom were making their way to the BP-sponsored exhibition.
The Museum’s Response
Following the weekend protest, Hartwig Fischer, Director of the British Museum, said that the continued partnership with BP was one that should be defended. “We share the concerns… of climate change,” he said in a statement made to the press. Nevertheless, according to Fischer, the museum addresses these issues in novel ways due to the content of its exhibitions and public programming. “[Without external]… sponsorship this would not be possible,” he said. Fischer went on to claim that removing the opportunity to stage exhibitions like the one devoted to Troy would not contribute to solving the climate crisis.
In recent weeks Museum Directors in Australia, and at London’s Natural History Museum and Horniman Museum have made commitments to fight climate change. It seems that the British Museum position is at odds with the wider sector.
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About the author – Manuel Charr
Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.