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A pelican, a preacher and a huge spill

On 2nd May 2015, New York-based singing activists Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir joined forces with UK-based oil sponsorship campaigners BP or not BP? to recreate the BP Deepwater Horizon spill inside the British Museum. The unsanctioned performance filled the Great Court with singing, dancing, a giant pelican drowning in oil and an impassioned sermon calling on the Museum to dump BP, whose sponsorship contract is due to expire soon.

This was the latest in a series of creative protests accusing the British Museum of helping BP to clean up its tarnished brand by allowing it to sponsor the museum’s major exhibitions, in a five-year deal that ends next year. The performance began with fifty performers creating an “oil spill” with black umbrellas on the stairs in the Museum’s Great Court. Hundreds of museum-goers gathered to watch as the slick gradually engulfed two animated puppets – a pelican and a dolphin – while the performers sang:

“It started with a crude spill, off the Gulf Coast, from a rig of BP
Museum why you helping, why you helping BP?”

The pelican’s death was marked with an unearthly shriek, at which point a BP-branded umbrella emerged from the slick and the performers formed into lines of black-clad mourners, as if at a funeral. Reverend Billy then addressed the crowd, calling on museum-goers to challenge the oil company’s relationship with the Museum. He called the sponsorship of the Indigenous Australia exhibition “ridiculous”, and pointed out that BP is currently planning to drill four new deepwater wells off the coast of Australia, in an area where blue whales breed.

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