Double, Double: Oil is Trouble…

“Round about the globe we go! Into the ocean, oil we throw; tar that lurks beneath the ground uproots and kills without a sound. The planet heats, nothing survives – while back in London our brand thrives!”.

In a brilliant piece of guerilla theater, the Reclaim Shakespeare Company staged a highly public rebuke of British Petroleum’s sponsorship of London’s Tate Gallery. BP, of course, is the corporate sociopath behind the metastasizing disaster in the Gulf of Mexico that was triggered by the explosion on the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon.

Subsequent investigations demonstrated that BP’s subcontractors were irresponsible, wasteful, and routinely dismissive of safety concerns — hardly the kinds of people you need working on a drilling & pumping setup extracting oil from the ocean floor thousands of feet below.

Last month, two Tate members publicly resigned in a protest of the museum’s ongoing sponsorship relationship with BP — despite the fact that its members weren’t happy about the institution receiving sponsorship from an international climaticide profiteer. Adding insult to insult, the Tate’s management continues to defend BP, dismissing such malfeasances as the Deepwater Horizon disaster, BP’s partnership with Russia’s Rosneft oil company in exploiting the greatly endangered Arctic, the company’s deep involvement in the extraction of Canadian tar sands oil, and its complicity in accelerating climate change. Although BP funding is a relatively small fraction of the gallery’s annual budget, it’s still mighty dirty money.

They called themselves “actor-vists” (actors/activists), and there were thirty of them at the Tate the other day, putting on a revised and updated version of MacBeth:

Out, damned logo! out, I say! The waters are murky!
What need we fear who knows it, when none can call BP 
to account? Yet who would have thought philanthropy
to have so much corruption in it?
Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this oil 
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather 
The multitudinous seas intoxicate, 
Making the green one black.
What, will these hands ne’er be clean?
No more o’ that, BP, no more: you mar all with this drilling.
Here’s the smell of destruction still. All the 
oil wells of Arabia will not sweeten this gallery. O, O, O!

Lady Macbeth runs screaming out of the gallery

Accursed be BP that made me so, 
For they hath cow’d my better part of man! 
Nay, be these corporate fiends no more believed, 
That liest to us in a double sense; 
They keep the word of promise to our ear, 
But break it with their deeds. I’ll not partner with thee!
Out, damned logo!


The actor-vists led chanting audience members in a parade through the museum before theatrically “ejecting” performers dressed as BP executives from the building, while hundreds of spectators watched. Museum security didn’t interfere, and neither did Nicholas Serota, who watched the drama unfold.

There is a burgeoning movement to reject arts sponsorship from oil companies. In England, the umbrella organization Art Not Oil is coordinating actions from The Reclaim Shakespeare Company, Liberate Tate, Shell Out Sounds and other anti-sponsorship groups.

Nerissa Tilouche, who performed at the Tate today, said: “BP is gambling with our planet. It is officially the world’s biggest corporate criminal, following the Gulf of Mexico disaster. Its activities in the tar sands, the Arctic, and elsewhere are locking us into a future of disastrous runaway climate change. The Tate should sever all ties with BP, because this sponsorship deal is giving the company a veneer of respectability that it does not deserve.”

James Atherton, another performer, said: “BP provides less than 1% of the Tate’s annual income*, but gets a huge amount of branding and publicity in return. The visitor map booklet for the newly rehung Tate Britain contains the word ‘BP’ 19 times in its 24 pages, and the main permanent exhibition is now the ‘BP Walk Through British Art’. This upgraded BP branding is a slap in the face to the many Tate visitors, members and contributing artists who have been raising serious concerns about this funding relationship for years. Tate should end this deal, and put in place an ethical sponsorship policy to ensure that similarly reckless sponsors are kept out of its galleries in the future. The Tate would then be free to join us in calling for decent public funding for the arts that doesn’t allow unscrupulous companies like BP to buy themselves such a dangerous level of public credibility.”


The Reclaim Shakespeare Company started in 2012 as a response to BP’s sponsorship of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), performing “guerilla Shakespeare” actions and organizing flashmobs at BP-sponsored events. Following which, BP reduced its involvement with the RSC!

Well-played, Reclaimers.


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