Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Sherlock Holmes, the British Museum & an oily villain

On Global Divestment Day Chris Garrard says its time for cultural institutions to cut their ties with the fossil fuel industry

February 14, 2015
5 min read

It seemed like an ordinary Sunday afternoon at the British Museum. But it was to be the setting for a most grotesque affair, to stretch even the singular powers of the world’s greatest detective…

Last Sunday, the British Museum’s Great Court came to a standstill as Sherlock Holmes, Dr Watson and a unit of Victorian cops uncovered a crime scene. Hundreds of museum-goers gathered to watch, as the detective and his companion investigated a writhing oil spill flowing down the museum’s stairs. Holmes, equipped with trademark pipe and magnifying glass, quickly reached his conclusion…

The British Museum is harbouring the world’s biggest corporate criminal – BP!

This was the latest guerrilla performance from our theatrical activist troupe BP or not BP?. It comes at a moment when our most prestigious cultural institutions are under scrutiny for their relationship with this oil giant. Just last month, the Tate was forced to reveal that its much-vaunted BP sponsorship amounted to just 0.5% of the gallery’s income over a 17-year period. The average cost to BP of buying the Tate’s support for a year was £224,000 – about the same as a 30-second TV advert during the X-Factor final.

BP has been a corporate sponsor of the British Museum – the UK’s most popular visitor attraction – for 25 years, painting itself as a generous patron. In reality, BP makes meagre contributions to the museum, out of its budget of billions, in order to splash their logos on gallery walls and cleanse their brand image. Without the social legitimacy that cultural sponsorship buys, BP would struggle to push its risky projects like tar sands extraction and Arctic drilling. Its prestigious partnership with the British Museum also helps to distract from its role in creating unstoppable climate change.

But where does Sherlock Holmes come in? Well, in the criminal trial over Deepwater Horizon in 2012, BP admitted guilt on 14 charges of misconduct and neglect in relation to the explosion that killed 11 oil workers and caused the massive spill. BP also admitted lying to the US Congress and was forced to pay $4.5bn (£2.8bn) for its wrongdoing, the largest criminal fine in history. BP is now in court for an on-going civil case, where the company could be fined a further $13.7 billion under the US Clean Water Act, with the final outcome expected in April.

The Museum’s next BP-branded exhibition is Enduring Civilisation: Indigenous Australia. As BP pollutes indigenous communities from Canada to West Papua, and causes climate change in drought-stricken Australia, the company is plastering its logo over artefacts from the cultures harmed by its activities.

The British Museum is one of four cultural institutions – alongside the Tate, the Royal Opera House and the National Gallery – that are currently sponsored by BP as part of a 5-year block partnership. This deal is due for renewal by 2016/17, meaning that Trustees and board members will be starting to debate the issue now. If we want to get this deal dropped, 2015 will be a pivotal year to take action.

Today, on Global Divestment Day, campaigners across the world are calling for universities, religious bodies, councils and pension funds to cut their ties with the fossil fuel industry. It’s time our cultural institutions did the same – but this won’t happen unless we keep building the pressure.

Holmes successfully identified the criminal, but alas! The oily villain escaped into the museum. As the audience applauded our surprise performance, we were already preparing our next move: a mass public ‘detective flashmob’ to track down BP…

BP or not BP? invite you to join their next flashmob performance inside the British Museum on Sunday 29th March 2015 at 3pm, to help catch this dangerous criminal and stop the Museum from aiding and abetting BP’s crimes.

Email info@bp-or-not-bp.org for more details. You can also join the Facebook event and follow BP or not BP? on Twitter for updates.

BP or not BP? is part of the Art Not Oil coalition; you can sign their joint petition against BP sponsorship.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones

‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression

Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death

‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum

The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes

Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference

Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki

Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers

Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project

Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power

What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains

The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going


25