British Museum faces biggest ever protest over BP and Iraq

By agency reporter
February 13, 2019

Hundreds of protesters will take over the British Museum on Saturday 16 February 2019 at 2pm, for a mass performance action. The action will challenge the oil giant BP’s sponsorship of an Assyrian exhibition that includes objects from what is now Iraq. Organisers believe it will be the biggest ever protest in the museum’s 260-year history.

BP’s role in the Iraq war, its contribution to climate change, and the oil industry’s negative impacts in Iraq are of particular concern to campaigners, who are holding the protest to mark the sixteen-year anniversary of the record-breaking demonstrations against the invasion of Iraq.
The organisers of the performance protest, BP or not BP?, are also pointing to the British Museum’s exhibition itself, which includes ancient Iraqi artefacts originally looted by British explorers.
The event is taking place without permission and many details are being kept secret, but organisers have promised to take over the British Museum’s Great Court with movement, voices and props on an unprecedented scale. A spoof film based on BP's current advertising campaign, made by the group to promote the performance, has been viewed over 100,000 times on Facebook and Twitter, and the hip hop star Lowkey has recorded a message of support.
This will not be the first time the museum’s Assyria exhibition has been targeted by the performance activists. Last November, BP or not BP? set up a fake BP welcoming committee outside the exhibition, with Iraqi activists enacting a protest against the bogus BP spokespeople. This will be the group’s 35th performance inside the museum.

As well as the performance action inside the British Museum, a rival exhibition at the nearby P21 Gallery will open on Friday 15 February and feature work by artists from Iraq and of Iraqi descent living in the diaspora. As well as celebrating the work of Iraqi artists, the exhibition aims to expose BP’s relationship with Iraq, and its attempts to exploit Iraqi history in order to 'artwash'its damaged image.
Maryam Hussain, an Iraqi member of BP or not BP?, said: “An exhibition featuring looted objects from ancient Iraq, sponsored by an oil company? The British Museum and BP should be ashamed. We have not forgotten, nor forgiven, the role that BP played in lobbying the UK government for access to Iraq’s oil before the 2003 invasion.
“This outrageous exhibition only makes us more adamant in our demands for accountability of those who played a role in the invasion of Iraq. We will continue our fight for the decolonisation of our public institutions and resist the exploitation of people, land and environment by big oil companies.”

Sarah Horne, another member of BP or not BP? said: “It’s extraordinary that the publicly-funded British Museum is promoting a fossil fuel company in the middle of a climate crisis. BP is actively lobbying against climate laws, blocking clean energy and pushing ahead with ever-riskier drilling projects. The British Museum is helping BP to present a false face to the world, when in reality this rogue company is trampling on people’s rights, profiting from conflicts – especially the Iraq War – and driving us deeper into climate disaster. This dirty sponsorship deal needs to end now.
“If the British Museum is ever to address its colonial past it must also stop promoting companies like BP, who stand accused of neocolonial extractive practices today.”

* Watch the campaign's spoof BP film here

* BP or not BP?


Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.