A Syrian refugee and a theatre director whose work features in the British Museum’s upcoming BP sponsored Troy exhibition have written to the museum calling on it to sever its ties with oil giant BP. The letter speaks of the ‘devastating blow’ of discovering their work would be part of an exhibition branded by the oil giant. The news comes as pressure mounts on the British Museum to follow in the footsteps of both the Royal Shakespeare Company and National Galleries Scotland who recently announced they would end their partnerships with the oil giant.
The letter was sent on the 18th November to the Director and Trustees of the British Museum by Zoe Lafferty (theatre director) and Reem Alsayyah (performer). They created ‘Queens of Syria’ alongside others in 2016, a modern retelling of Euripides’ Trojan Women, with a cast of thirteen Syrian women who were refugees in Jordan. A film of their groundbreaking production has been included in the Troy exhibition which opens on the 21st November.
‘BP has directly profited from the widespread destruction and displacement of people, like the thirteen women who formed the cast for our play, and yet you have reached the conclusion that its logo should brand an exhibition highlighting exactly the issues BP contributes to causing.’
‘You place artists such as ourselves in an impossible position, where we must decide whether it is worse to try and remove our work from the exhibition – taking away the chance that this show can shine a light on the harsh realities that our team are living under – or to allow our work to help artwash the impacts and crimes of BP, a multinational oil and gas company that has wreaked havoc on this planet and its people.’
Reem speaks of her experience of being born in Syria during the first Gulf War, being ill as a baby and her family unable to get basic fuel for heat:
‘A war was raging for oil in the land of oil, and yet there was no oil for a heater to warm a mother, that sick baby and her two sisters. Meanwhile, my father was out of reach as an officer in the Syrian army, because of that same damn war, a war that was all about oil and money.’
While the team and producers differ on the best course of action, Zoe and Reem feel it’s their responsibility to join the growing opposition to BP sponsorship by speaking out. They urge the museum to follow the lead of the Royal Shakespeare Company and National Galleries Scotland and end their partnership with BP, which would be ‘a positive expression of the museum’s commitment to addressing the climate emergency and standing with those who are already experiencing its impacts.’
The British Museum is coming under intense pressure over its ongoing BP sponsorship deal in the wake of several cultural institutions severing their ties with big oil. Earlier this year, bestselling author Ahdaf Soueif resigned from the board of the museum over its ‘immovability on issues of critical concern’, including BP sponsorship. In February, the largest protest in the museum’s 260-year history took place when 350 people took part in a mass performance intervention against BP’s sponsorship of its exhibition on Assyria.
Last week, the Director of the British Museum Hartwig Fischer defended the museum’s BP sponsorship deal on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, although he failed to comment on BP’s business activities and whether they are in conflict with the museum’s responsibilities on climate change.