Mass BP action at British Museum ends with creative occupation of four galleries

Last night (April 23rd), we occupied four rooms inside the British Museum after hours in protest against the museum’s controversial sponsor, the oil giant BP. Our performers smuggled in a huge, 10-metre version of the oil company’s logo, made from wood and fabric, which we dramatically “dismantled” in a hundreds-strong performance in the museum’s Great Court at 4pm.

We then took the pieces of the logo to four different galleries in the museum and refused to leave, occupying the rooms and transforming the pieces of logo into artwork that “represents the future we need, beyond BP”. Around 50 performers stayed in the museum until 7pm, two hours after closing time, despite requests to leave from museum security. At 7pm, the performers left their artwork – which ranged from fabric collages to three-dimensional windmills – inside the museum as a reminder to the management to end the BP sponsorship.

The action took place this weekend because the British Museum is actively deciding whether to renew its current deal with BP

Yesterday’s protest – named “Make BP History” – began at 1pm, when hundreds of people entered the British Museum and began creating multiple protests throughout the building. Actions took place throughout the afternoon, challenging the museum’s BP sponsorship deal and also highlighting objects stolen by the British Empire that we believe must be returned to their communities of origin. Participants stuck up signs around the building, hung banners off balconies, gave speeches in the galleries and leafleted museum visitors, to highlight BP’s plans to drill for more oil and gas than the world can afford to burn – as well as the oil giant’s political lobbying [1] and relationship with repressive regimes [2]. 

With around 300 participants of all ages, this was the largest protest at the museum since before the COVID pandemic. 

At 4pm, a team of performers revealed the 10-metre BP logo we had smuggled into the museum – complete with the words “DROP BP” in its centre – and led the crowd in a song that included the refrain:

“The sun is setting on BPMake BP history”

Pieces of the giant logo were animated by the participants, rising and falling in time with the song. The performance was carried out successfully despite museum security confiscating some pieces of wood and other art materials from protesters on the way into the building.

Performers playing the role of five other arts institutions that have ended their sponsorship deals with BP – Tate, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Portrait Gallery, the Edinburgh International Festival and Scottish Ballet – dramatically ripped apart their own BP logos as part of the performance. This highlighted the fact that the British Museum is one of very few UK cultural organisations that still partners with a fossil fuel company. At least 14 UK cultural institutions have ended their sponsorship deals with oil companies in the last 6 years [3].

The giant BP logo was then pulled apart by the performers and taken to the four occupied rooms to be creatively “transformed”.

Deborah Locke, one of our members who took part in yesterday’s action, said:

“Renewing this sponsorship deal would send a terrible message, making an oil giant seem acceptable when we need to urgently shift away from this disastrous industry. We know from the latest UN climate report that we can extract no new fossil fuels to have any hope of avoiding the worst climate scenarios. But BP is planning to spend £23 billion on new oil and gas fields between now and 2030. Despite its vague claims to be going green, BP’s business plan is a roadmap to climate collapse.”

The action took place on the tenth anniversary of our first ever action, a stage invasion challenging BP sponsorship of the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2012. Since then, we have held nearly 70 protest performances in oil-sponsored arts spaces, more than half of which have been in the British Museum.

Deborah Locke also said: 

“Hundreds of archaeologists, historians, scientists and other museum professionals have already called on the museum to stop promoting BP, including a formal submission to trustees this week arguing that renewing the sponsorship would go against the museum’s own policies. As the climate crisis deepens, public anger at the fossil fuel industry will only grow. Renewing the BP deal would do huge damage to the British Museum’s reputation, and open the door to ever more protests in the future.”

All participants were asked to take a lateral flow test before attending, and to wear masks inside the museum (unless exempt).