Climate activists target British Museum with BP Trojan Horse demonstration

Article: David Styles | Image: © Hugh Warwick

A four-metre high Trojan Horse has been positioned in the British Museum’s courtyard this morning as activist group BP or not BP? campaign against fossil fuel sponsorship of the institution and wider UK arts sector.

The wooden horse, which can seat ten people inside, was designed in direct response to the Museum’s BP-sponsored Troy exhibition and manoeuvred onto the site early this morning by a group of activists carrying ‘BP Must Fall’ flags.

The campaigners intend to remain in the courtyard overnight and stay in situ for a planned mass action tomorrow, where the activist group hope more than 1,000 people will join them for a day of peaceful protest.

Protesters alongside the BP Trojan Horse at the British Museum © Hugh Warwick

Helen Glynn, from BP or not BP?, says the Trojan Horse is the “perfect metaphor for BP sponsorship,” adding that it “looks like a generous gift, but inside lurks death and destruction.” The theme of the protest also makes reference to BP’s installation of a new gas pipeline around 75 miles from the site of ancient Troy.

Campaigners delivered a letter to the Museum as part of the peaceful protest © BP or not BP?

The demonstration, the 40th held by BP or not BP? at the British Museum, marks what organisers describe as a “bold but necessary” escalation in its campaign. Detailing the motivations of this latest action, the activists have penned an open letter to the institution:

Dear British Museum,

We would like to request that you allow us to bring our Trojan Horse into the museum courtyard and that you allow it to stay until tomorrow, the day of our ‘BP Must Fall’ mass action. The Troy exhibition has inspired us to create this beautiful work of art because the Trojan Horse is the perfect metaphor for your BP sponsorship deal. On its surface, the sponsorship might appear to be a generous gift, but inside lurks death and destruction. You have let BP into the museum, despite the damage it is doing to the world. Now, we request you let our horse in too.

Hundreds of people have helped to crowdfund this horse because they feel so strongly that the museum should not be promoting and giving legitimacy to an oil company when we are in the midst of a climate emergency. The museum has previously said that it will facilitate peaceful protest and we want to work with you to make sure that our interactive artwork enhances tomorrow’s event. We are confident that this can be done without making the duties of your security team and front of house staff unmanageable.

Our intention is for the horse to act as a ‘welcome desk’ for our mass protest tomorrow, so that when people arrive they can easily find us and get instructions for how the protest will work, helping the day to run as smoothly and safely as possible. We do not want to block any entrances or cause any disruption to the flow of people coming in or out of the museum, so we believe the best place for this magnificent beast is within the courtyard where there is plenty of room.

Unlike the Greeks in the legend of Troy, we have no further plans for the horse other than for it to remain stationary in the courtyard for the duration of the protest. Then we will take it away.

We acknowledge that this is an unusual request, but as your chairman has said, climate change is ‘the great issue of our time’. Business as usual must change. This will be our 40th performance at the museum since our group began in 2012. It has been disheartening over the intervening years to feel that the museum is refusing to engage on the most vital challenge facing the peoples of the world today, particularly those communities whose stories you seek to share in your exhibitions and that are already being impacted by our changing climate. Allowing the horse in would be a powerful demonstration that you are now willing to listen and engage with the people, not just the polluters.

Yours sincerely,

BP or not BP?

The issue of tackling the climate crisis and shunning sponsors who do not is becoming ever more prominent in the sector, with countless institutions having made environmental pledges in recent months and several calling time on BP sponsorship.

BP or not BP? will hope its latest attempt will apply enough pressure to ensure the British Museum joins the ranks of cultural venues to have severed ties with the fossil fuel giant.

To keep up with proceedings throughout the demonstration you can follow @drop_BP and #BPmustfall on Twitter.