Environmental campaigners closed the British Museum as they scaled its columns in protest against sponsorship of a new exhibition by oil giant BP.
Dozens of Greenpeace activists staged a protest at the central London tourist attraction, climbing the columns and unfurling large banners carrying the names of places hit by flooding, storms and rising seas – set to worsen with climate change.
The activists claim it is a “stunning irony” the blockbuster Sunken Cities exhibition, displaying artefacts from ancient cities submerged in the Mediterranean, is sponsored by a company which produces fossil fuels that contribute to global warming.
Greenpeace is calling on the British Museum to end its partnership with BP, claiming it allows the oil company to clean up its image, in the latest of a series of protests by environmental campaigners against the oil giant sponsoring the arts.
The campaigners rebranded the exhibition, which tells the story of the lost Egyptian cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus, as “Sinking Cities” on its opening day, warning of modern cities and regions facing climate change-related disasters.
The banners had 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 swapped images of the ancient sunken cities with pictures of recent floods in Yorkshire.
The museum was closed for a period of time this morning as the protest took place, for the safety of visitors, the institution said.
Greenpeace 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,” she said.
A spokeswoman for the museum said: “The British Museum has reopened. The decision to close the museum this morning was taken to ensure the safety of the museum’s visitors.
“We would like to thank visitors for their patience.”
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.”