BP Portrait Award demo: guests and judges file past faces of the Gulf spill, 14.6.11

'On 14 June, guests and judges arriving for the BP Portrait Award ceremony came face to face with portraits of people affected by BP's massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The blowout of the Deepwater Horizon caused the deaths of 11 oil workers and untold, ongoing damage to the people and the environment of the Gulf Coast.


 Lining the entrance to the National Portrait Gallery, London Rising Tiders were joined by folk from Climate Rush and Platform to mount our Living Exhibition of portraits from the Facing the Gulf project. As they entered the greenwash event, BP's guests all had to all had to see the portraits and hear the stories of the ordinary Gulf Coast residents who painted them, and whose lives have been damaged by the devastating oil spill. The portraits were created in workshops held on the Gulf Coast and led by UK artist Nick Viney. All of the paintings were submitted to the Portrait Award - unsurprisingly, they weren't included on the short-list. Tonight, we brought them 'home' to the award ceremony, where they were able to tell a powerful and important story. See Art Not Oil for a gallery of the project portraits.

American folk/eco-duo Sassafras performed 'Art Not Oil', which was written for the occasion, and other songs urging the NPG to free itself from BP's oily grasp. We handed out a thousand flyers which were well received by passersby and many guests, including one of the artists who had been short-listed for the prize, who said that he felt tainted by BP's sponsorship.

We invited Sandy Nairne, the NPG director, to take some time out from the evening's festivities to attend the Living Exhibition outside - also unsurpringly, he never showed. Clearly, he's not ready to face the fact that under his leadership the NPG is providing cover for BP's appalling safety record and continuing assault on the environment and people all over the world.

Next up: A new play, 'We Will Make You Whole', which dramatises the plight of Gulf Coast residents and which will feature the Facing the Gulf project portraits as part of the production, is on at Acquire Arts, Battersea from August 6th, 2011. We're preparing Sandy's invitation now - will he show up next time?'


Check out the great press coverage of the action:






13 June 2011 


Artists and climate activists will target the prestigious BP Portrait Award ceremony at the National Portrait Gallery today (14 June) in protest at BP’s continuing sponsorship of the award.

The artist collective Facing the Gulf submitted eight portraits to the award earlier this year, by artists from the US Gulf Coast who were directly affected by BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April 2010. Tomorrow they will mount a ‘living exhibit’ outside the National Portrait Gallery, presenting the paintings to the judges and guests as they arrive at the event.

Facing the Gulf will be joined by climate activists from London Rising Tide. Together they aim to ensure that the faces and voices of communities destroyed by BP cannot be ignored by the company or the gallery.

The groups are angry that the National Portrait Gallery continues to allow BP to ‘greenwash’ its image by associating itself with culturally valued institutions. They argue that BP uses sponsorship to divert attention from the damaging effects of its practises internationally, including the Deepwater Horizon spill, the worst maritime oil spill in history. The protest is part of a larger campaign to force the National Portrait Gallery to end its sponsorship deal with BP.

Nancy Boulicault of Facing the Gulf said: ‘Concerned art lovers and climate justice activists will be displaying the Facing the Gulf portraits so that everyone coming into the National Portrait Gallery will be able to see the faces of the people who have been affected by BP's oil.’

The groups have invited Sandy Nairne, the gallery’s Director, to the alternative exhibition outside.

‘Sandy Nairne and the Portrait Award judges, including BP’s Des Violaris, should accept our invitation to the Living Exhibit," said Robin Jerilea, Facing the Gulf project artist. She continued: ‘In dealing with BP’s sponsorship the National Portrait Gallery is faced with hard questions. We, on the Gulf Coast, know how complicated the issues around oil exploitation are. It’s time to face them head on. We hope Mr Nairne take up this golden opportunity to learn about what BP does to people, communities and the environment when it takes off its ‘patron of the arts’ mask.’

Tony Cottee of London Rising Tide said: ‘It is a national shame that our public cultural institutions continue to play their part in covering up BP’s environmental and social crimes around the world. We are here to remind Britain’s cultural elite of what truly lies beneath BP’s carefully cultivated green image, and to warn the National Portrait Gallery that their own reputation is at risk through their association with a company as tainted as BP.’

The Living Exhibit will take place at 5.45 PM outside the National Portrait Gallery, St. Martin’s Place, London. Media are welcome to attend.


For more information, interviews and high res photos of the portraits to be displayed:


  1. The BP Portrait Award is an annual prize for contemporary international portraiture. The award ceremony takes place on 14 June, and the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery opens to the public on 16 June. The award has been sponsored by BP for the past 21 years. In 1989 the oil giant took over sponsorship from the tobacco company John Player & Sons after tobacco was seen as too socially unacceptable to be a sponsor.
  2. Facing the Gulf - Portraits of Oil is a community arts project documenting the experience of empowering Gulf Coast residents to paint portraits of the Gulf Coast to enter into the BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery in London.
  3. London Rising Tide takes creative direct action to confront the root causes of climate change, and promotes equitable, community-run solutions.
  4. The campaigners’ key concerns about BP’s practices include:


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