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Lacoste: No Room For Palestinian Artist

December 20, 2011

French fashion brand Lacoste demands the removal of Bethlehem artist Larissa Sansour from major photographic prize.

The prestigious €25,000 Lacoste Elysée Prize is awarded yearly by the Swiss Musée de l’Elysée with sponsorship from Lacoste.

Larissa Sansour was among the eight artists shortlisted for the 2011 prize. In December 2011, Lacoste demanded that her nomination be revoked. Lacoste stated their refusal to support Sansour’s work, labeling it ‘too pro-Palestinian’. A special jury will convene in January 2012 to select the winner.

Larissa Sansour, Nation Estate - Main Lobby, 2011

As a nominee, Sansour was awarded a bursary of €4,000 and given carte blanche to produce a portfolio of images for the final judging. In November 2011, three photos for Sansour’s Nation Estate project were accepted, and she was congratulated by the prize administrators on her work and professionalism. Sansour’s name was included on all the literature relating to the prize and on the website as an official nominee. Her name has since been removed, just as her project has been withdrawn from an upcoming issue of contemporary art magazine ArtReview introducing the nominated artists.

In an attempt to mask the reasons for her dismissal, Sansour was asked to approve a statement saying that she withdrew from her nomination ‘in order to pursue other opportunities’. Sansour has refused.

Sansour says: “I am very sad and shocked by this development. This year Palestine was officially admitted to UNESCO, yet we are still being silenced. As a politically involved artist I am no stranger to opposition, but never before have I been censored by the very same people who nominated me in the first place. Lacoste’s prejudice and censorship puts a major dent in the idea of corporate involvement in the arts. It is deeply worrying.”

Larissa Sansour, Nation Estate - Jerusalem Floor, 2011

Sansour’s shortlisted work, Nation Estate, is conceived in the wake of the Palestinian bid for UN membership. Nation Estate depicts a science fiction-style Palestinian state in the form of a single skyscraper housing the entire Palestinian population. Inside this new Nation Estate, the residents have recreated their lost cities on separate floors: Jerusalem on 3, Ramallah on 4, Sansour’s own hometown of Bethlehem on 5, etc.

The artist explains: “Last week the director of the museum calls me and says that unfortunately a high ranking someone at Lacoste (nobody knows his name) demanded that I be taken off the list of nominees. The strange thing is that Lacoste was in on the selection process from the very beginning, so they were fully aware of my work when they nominated me. What seems to have struck them is the content of this new work which is inspired by the Palestinian bid for official status at the United Nations. That appears to have been too controversial for Lacoste.”

Larissa Sansour, Nation Estate - Olive Tree, 2011

Regretting Lacoste’s decision to censor Sansour’s work, Musée de l’Elysée has offered to exhibit the Nation Estate project outside of the confines of the Lacoste sponsorship. Musée de l’Elysée is based in Lausanne, Switzerland. The Lacoste Elysée Prize 2011 is the award’s second edition.

Søren Lind, Sansour’s assistant, declared Tuesday(20th Decemeber) that Lacoste  had yet to give any public response on the matter.  Spokespersons for the Musée de l’Elysée were contacted, but no statement was forthcoming.

Palestine Solidarity Campaign has also denounced the decision by the Lacoste Elysée Prize to exclude Larissa Sansour from the final shortlist on grounds that her work is too ‘pro-Palestinian’ in a public statement.
UPDATE
Wednesday 21st December, after the news spread to many international newspapers Lacoste reacted by cancelling their sponsorship of the entire Lacoste Elysée Prize 2011. You can read their statement here and the statement by Sam Stourdzé, Director of the Musée de l’Elysée here.

The Musée de l’Elysée has also decided to suspend the organisation of the Lacoste Elysée Prize 2011 and made the artist an official offer for an exhibition: “We reaffirm our support to Larissa Sansour for the artistic quality of her work and her dedication. The Musée de l’Elysée has already proposed to her to present at the museum the series of photographs “Nation Estate”, which she submitted in the framework of the contest.” – Sam Stourdzé, Director of the Musée de l’Elysée

For further information: Larissa Sansour or assistant Soren Lind on +44 784 9011 977 and info@larissasansour.com

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