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Goldsmiths' Official Student Magazine

BP or Not BP? Occupies the British Museum

28 February 2019
Connor Newson documents the recent demonstration protesting the oil giant’s relationship with the museum as a sponsor...

In one of the largest demonstrations in the history of the British Museum, BP or Not BP? organised a peaceful – and performative – demonstration with hundreds of participants on the 16th of February. Together they were protesting the oil giant’s relationship with the museum as a sponsor and to call out the corporation’s premeditated lobbying with the British government to ensure access to Iraq’s oil fields before the war even began.

BP or Not BP? is a performative art activist group seeking to tackle BP and the cultural institutions that have sponsorship ties to their body. Generally, for each event a core group of activists create the foundations of a public performance. Instructions that incite the spontaneous growth of the wider performance are then released via email and social media to participants who cannot dedicate as much time to the group. These instructions are limited as to not alert the authorities and institutions to the sequence of events.

Prior to Saturday’s occupation, participants were asked to wear black clothes and await further instructions to be given by activists in red t-shirts at 2pm. As the hour approached a sea of people donned in black attire gathered in the main hall of the museum. Core group members organised participants into rows before handing out paper with lyrics to begin the protest, also having been disseminated prior to the occupation. In unison, the crowd turned and repeatedly pointed to the large banner of the BP-sponsored main exhibit, I am Ashurbanipal, featuring artefacts removed from what is now modern-day Iraq. Then, hauntingly, they chanted “Drop BP!” repeatedly.

The demonstrations continued for hours after, disrupting the normative flow of museum life to create awareness of not only the exploitation of Iraq’s natural resources by foreign governments, but the underlying and all-encompassing issue of climate change. As a result, the group’s events have begun to attract other environmental activist groups, such as Extinction Rebellion (XR).

Extinction Rebellion, within its expansive repertoire of implemented theories regarding successful alternative political action, has noted the globally fractured nature of environmental groups. In light of this, with its online presence of 66,000 people in over 40 countries, the group actively promotes and urges XR participants to support other environmental activist groups and events to increase the efficacy of the environmental activist movement.

Extinction Rebellion Goldsmiths, along with other XR affinity groups, attended the demonstration in solidarity to oppose BP and call out its destructive nature. As the environmental movement gathers momentum, XR Goldsmiths are continuing to organise and spread the word across campus and around the community in the build up to International Rebellion Day on the 15th Of April. Here XR groups worldwide will take part in non-stop, disruptive, non-violent, civil disobedience in order to apply pressure on national governments and inept businesses and institutions that fail to tackle this existential threat. Get Involved!

BP or Not BP occupies the British Museum Feb 2019

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Words and Video, Connor Newson

Images, Diana More