Wednesday artists from art activist group Liberate Tate staged a performance in the Tate Britain on the anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion that killed 11 workers and spilled 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over 87 days.
A naked member of the group had an oil-like substance poured over him by silent figures dressed in black and wearing veils, while lying in a fetal position on the floor in the middle of the exhibition Single Form. Dedicated to the human body, Single Form is one of a series of ‘BP British Art Displays’ staged throughout the galleries of Tate Britain.
Sandra Paige, a participant in the performance, said:
“It’s astonishing that Nick Serota and other Tate executives can be so blind to the horrific social and environmental impacts that BP is responsible for around the world. From the destruction of fisherfolks’ livelihoods in the Gulf of Mexico, to the indigenous communities in Canada fearing for their very survival – the human cost of BP’s oil extraction is staggering.”
The intervention comes as pressure grows for the art institution to sever its links with the increasing controversial oil company. Earlier in the week, a public demonstration took place in the Tate Modern over its links with BP and in the Guardian this week, 166 people who work in the arts including Naomi Klein, John Keane and Matthew Herbert published a letter urging the Tate “to demonstrate its commitment to a sustainable future by ending its sponsorship relationship with BP”.
Terry Taylor, one of the members of Liberate Tate said:
“Many important cultural institutions have been the victim of the government’s cuts in arts funding recently. The fact that many organisations will be actively looking for new funding means that the debate around the ethics of corporate sponsorship is more important than ever. Oil companies like BP are responsible for environmental and social controversy all over the world, and we can’t let their sponsorship of institutions like Tate detract from that fact.”
In the last year BP has increased investment in dangerous tar sands extraction in Canada, it has been shown to be a key backer of Mubarak’s repressive regime in Egypt and to have broken international rules governing its human rights responsibilities, and it has attempted to commence drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean. Whilst BP destroys ecosystems, communities and the climate, it has also sought to silence the voices of its critics.
Despite numerous freedom of information requests, Tate refuses to disclose details of its arrangement with BP.
Terry Taylor of Liberate Tate said:
“By refusing to disclose the extent of BP sponsorship, Tate is preventing the necessary public debate from taking place. It’s time it came clean about just how much dirty oil money is propping up public arts institutions.”
Ironically, Liberate Tate was actually founded during a 2010 workshop on art and activism sponsored by the Tate. During the workshop, the group says that the Tate tried to prevent participants from doing anything to embarass the museum’s sponsors. It appears that the Tate failed epically.