Friends in 1,500-strong protest at British Museum

Friends took part in a mass creative protest at the British Museum this month

Activists at the British Museum. | Photo: Ron Fassbender.

Quakers were among 1,500 people who took part in a mass creative protest on Saturday 8 February. The protest was part of a fifty-one-hour occupation against BP sponsorship at the British Museum this month. The three-day mass ‘creative takeover’ of the museum started on 7 February when a giant BP-branded Trojan Horse arrived at the site, in response to the BP-sponsored Troy: Myth and Reality exhibition. The activists remained in the museum overnight and created an art installation ‘Monument’ made up of body casts of the forty protesters to symbolise the growing movement opposing the fossil-fuel industry.

According to the group BP or not BP?, which organised the action, ‘the scale and duration of the weekend’s events are an unprecedented escalation in the long-running campaign to end oil sponsorship of culture and divest organisations from fossil fuels’.

Quaker Augene Nanning, from Tottenham Meeting, took part and told the Friend that she had had ‘difficult conversations’ with some people when she returned on the Sunday. The protesters had gone home but the gallery had left the installation out. ‘It was a real pleasure and joy to speak to most people, and, even in the difficult conversations, people listened for a while. I think it’s fabulous that the British Museum left the installation out and created opportunities for these kind of discussions because even if they walk away thinking “oil companies are brilliant”, perhaps it’s created a small crack in their thinking. It was wonderful to be in the museum after it closed, with the lights off, and feeling we were part of something important.’

The protesters put a plaque next to ‘Monument’ saying the museum ‘must now follow in the footsteps of Tate, the Royal Shakespeare Company, National Theatre and National Galleries Scotland by cutting ties to oil sponsors’.

Friends were also buoyed by the news that staff at the British Museum issued a supportive statement for the protest co-signed by the former trustee Ahdaf Soueif, who resigned last summer partly over BP sponsorship. ‘As a public institution, the British Museum owes it to its staff, its visitors… to play a responsible role in the greatest challenge facing society’, the statement said, issued by members of the PCS union’s culture group.

The protest was part of a series of action that week targeting the petrochemical company, which included a blockade of BP’s headquarters by Greenpeace members.

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