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The British Museum.
The British Museum.

Citing BP Sponsorship and Other Issues, British Museum Trustee Resigns

Following the British Museum’s decision to continue working with BP, Egyptian writer Ahdaf Soueif, a museum trustee since 2012, has tendered her resignation. In a statement Soueif published on the London Review of Books’ website, she said that her decision to step down was a “cumulative response to the museum’s immovability on issues of critical concern to the people who should be its core constituency: the young and less privileged.”

In addition to the controversial sponsorship agreement with BP, Soueif also holds the museum at fault for its silence on the restitution of looted artifacts, as well as its decision not to rehire employees from the cleaning service Carillion who worked for the museum for years before the company went bankrupt.

“Public cultural institutions have a responsibility: not only a professional one towards their work, but a moral one in the way they position themselves in relation to ethical and political questions,” Soueif wrote. “The world is caught up in battles over climate change, vicious and widening inequality, the residual heritage of colonialism, questions of democracy, citizenship, and human rights. On all these issues the museum needs to take a clear ethical position.”

Soueif’s resignation also comes on the heels of an open letter written by Gary Hume and signed by eighty artists—including Allen Jones, Anish Kapoor, Christian Marclay, and Gillian Wearing—that renewed demands for London’s National Portrait Gallery to distance itself from the oil corporation. “We believe that, today, the loss of BP as a source of funding is a cost worth bearing, until the company changes course and enables future generations to make art in a world that resembles our own,” the letter read.

Richard Lambert, chair of the board of trustees, told The Guardian that Soueif’s sudden exit was a “sad moment” and was “unexpected.” He added that the museum is grateful for the oil giant’s sponsorship. “BP has made it possible for us to put on exhibitions which four million people have seen. . . . We couldn’t have done without that support.” The institution decided to extend its partnership with BP until 2023 in a board meeting that was held two weeks ago.

Based in Cairo and London, Soueif is the author of two collections of short stories, Aisha (1983) and Sandpiper (1996), and two novels, In the Eye of the Sun (1992) and The Map of Love (1999).