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The British Museum in London.
The British Museum in London.

British Museum Staffers Express Solidarity with Trustee Who Resigned

Following novelist Ahdaf Soueif‘s decision to step down from the board of the British Museum in London over its controversial sponsorship agreement with British Petroleum and its silence on issues such as repatriation, museum workers have issued a public statement of support praising the author for speaking out. Soueif announced her exit days after the institution’s director, Hartwig Fischer, revealed that the museum will continue to partner with BP until 2023.

“Ahdaf’s actions highlight, once again, the troubling nature of the relationship between BP and the arts,” the statement reads. “Through its sponsorship of our most prestigious cultural institutions, BP is allowed to propagate the myth that, without its existence, we would not have access to the collections of our publicly funded museums and galleries.”

Penned by members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, whose culture sector is a member of the Art Not Oil Coalition, the statement accuses the museum of greenwashing the actions of a company that is a catalyst of climate change and whose carbon emissions were higher in 2018 than they’ve been in the last six years.

It also faults the institution for not leading discussions on its colonial legacy and praises Soueif for drawing attention to the treatment of its outsourced janitorial workers, who wanted to be hired by the museum when the facility management company Carillion went bankrupt in 2018. In conclusion, the statement calls on the remaining trustees to “make every effort to address the inadequacies raised.”

Richard Lambert, chair of the museum’s board of trustees, has previously said that “BP has made it possible for us to put on exhibitions and programming that 4 million people have seen.” Lambert has also said that “Hartwig Fischer has recently visited Benin City, Ghana, and Sudan [and has engaged regularly] with museum directors in Berlin and Paris” on matters related to restitution.

A museum spokesperson also told Artnews that “given the timescales involved and the limited resources within this small organization, bringing [the former Carillion workers] in-house at very short notice was not a viable option.”