British Museum staff express support for trustee who resigned

Novelist Ahdaf Soueif quit role over BP sponsorship and artefacts repatriation

Workers at the British Museum have issued a statement in support of the novelist Ahdaf Soueif, who resigned as a trustee last week because of what she called the institution’s “immovability” on critical issues, including its sponsorship by BP.

The staff, who are members of the Public and Commercial Services union, said Soueif’s resignation highlighted “the troubling nature of the relationship between BP and the arts”, adding that the sponsorship of cultural institutions by the oil company allowed BP “to propagate the myth” that without it, “we would not have access to the collections of our publicly funded museums and galleries”.

The group – part of the Art Not Oil coalition that seeks to end oil sponsorship of the arts – claims the “collection is being used to greenwash the activities of a company whose actions threaten lives the world over, both now and in the future”.

It said the museum needed to address the debate around the return of looted colonial-era artefacts. “The divisions in our country as a whole are rooted, in part, with an inability to reconcile with our colonial past,” the statement read.

“The museum as an institution is in a unique position (and given its own history has a unique obligation) to lead these difficult discussions. We echo Ms Soueif’s call for the museum to take a clear position as an ally of coming generations.”

Soueif outlined her reasons for resigning in a post on the London Review of Books website. “My resignation was not in protest at a single issue,” she wrote. “It 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 the less privileged.”

She added that the “British Museum is not a good thing in and of itself” and is “good only to the extent that its influence in the world is for the good”.

Soueif continued: “Will the museum use it to influence the future of the planet and its peoples? Or will it continue to project the power of colonial gain and corporate indemnity?”

The museum’s chair of trustees, Sir Richard Lambert, responded by saying the resignation of a “valued and very supportive trustee for seven years” was unexpected and a “sad moment”.

BP’s sponsorship of the arts in the UK has led to multiple resignations and protests by high-profile figures.

Earlier this month, Antony Gormley, Rachel Whiteread, Anish Kapoor, Gillian Wearing and Mark Wallinger were among a group of about 80 artists who wrote to the National Portrait Gallery director, Nicholas Cullinan, to demand it end its relationship with BP.

That followed Mark Rylance’s resignation from the Royal Shakespeare Company because of its sponsorship deal with the oil company, and Extinction Rebellion’s “die-in” protest outside the Royal Opera House over BP’s sponsorship.


Lanre Bakare Arts and culture correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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