The Egyptian writer Ahdaf Soueif publicly announced her resignation from the British Museum’s board of trustees in an article published by the London Review of Books on Monday. Soueif, who had been a trustee since 2012, cited the museum’s handling of three issues as the cause for her resignation: its sponsorship agreement with oil giant BP; the treatment of its workers; and its silence regarding restitution. She described the decision as “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.”
After outlining her efforts to bring the three issues up to the rest of the board, Soueif posed a series of questions about the British Museum’s role in the coming years. She wrote:
The British Museum is not a good thing in and of itself. It is good only to the extent that its influence in the world is for the good. The collection is a starting point, an opportunity, an instrument. 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 chairman of the British Museum’s board of trustees, Richard Lambert, told The Art Newspaper that Soueif announced her resignation shortly before a July 4th trustee meeting. In a statement quoted by TAN, a museum spokesperson said: “Ahdaf has made a significant contribution to the board in all its endeavours and discussions, and has played a crucial role in deepening the British Museum’s engagement with Egypt and the wider Middle East, and with audiences and partners throughout the world.”
The British Museum has come under growing scrutiny in recent years for both its holdings of artifacts looted from British colonies and its ongoing sponsorship deal with BP—which the museum’s director, Hartwig Fischer, recently described as “vital.” Earlier this month, 78 artists signed a letter calling on another London museum, the National Portrait Gallery, to end its sponsorship agreement with BP.