Dozens of Greenpeace activists scaled the front of the British Museum in protest against the sponsorship of a new exhibition by oil giant BP, who it said was “to clean up its image” despite contributing to climate change.
The museum announced that it "temporarily closed for visitor safety reasons" after protesters used ropes to climb its neo-classical columns before unfurling large banners carrying the names of cities and regions hit by flooding, storms and rising seas.
The Sunken Cities exhibition, which displays artefacts from ancient cities submerged in the Mediterranean, is sponsored by BP. Greenpeace said in a statement that it was “a stunning irony” that the oil firm was associated with exhibition when fossil fuels were contributing to climate change, rising sea levels and flooding.
BP did not comment directly on the protest, though it did say it was proud support exhibitions at the British Museum.
The 27-foot banners carry the names of New Orleans, Manila and the Maldives as well as UK towns hit by flooding in the past such as Boscastle and Hebden Bridge, and swap images of the ancient sunken cities with pictures of recent floods in Yorkshire.
Greenpeace - which labelled the exhibition 'Sinking Cities' - is calling on the British Museum to end its partnership with BP. The British Museum action is the latest of a series of protests by environmental campaigners against the oil giant sponsoring the arts.
Campaigner Elena Polisano said: "BP sponsors the British Museum to clean up its image, burnish its reputation and secure political access. It wants to keep digging up fossil fuels well into this century.
"It even wants to continue drilling in the Arctic. And now it has its logo on an exhibition about cities lost to rising seas. It's a stunning irony."
She added that sunken cities were not just a thing of the past, with whole nations such as the Maldives potentially disappearing under water as a result of climate change, and said the partnership hurt the museum's reputation.
"Oil is poisoning our air, warming our world and polluting our rivers and oceans. It is our present and future heritage that we must preserve. Oil is fast becoming the new tobacco. This deal needs to end," Ms Polisano said.
The green group said 85 people took part in the protest. A Metropolitan Police spokesman said officers had been called to the museum, in Bloomsbury, central London, shortly before 9.30am on Thursday.
A statement from the British Museum said: "The Museum is closed temporarily for visitor safety reasons. We hope we will be able to reopen shortly."
The museum later announced that it would reopen at 2.15pm, having been closed for several hours.
A BP spokesman said: "BP has a long history as a major supporter of arts and culture in the UK and we are proud to have partnered the British Museum for 20 years, supporting significant exhibitions such as the new Sunken Cities exhibition."
Earlier this year, BP announced it was ending its 26-year sponsorship of the Tate. The oil firm blamed “extremely challenging business environment”, rather than the series of environmental protests that targetted the Tate over of the partnership.
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