Artist charges censorship; sponsor says entry didn’t address theme of happiness
Lacoste, the fashion company with the iconic alligator logo, has gotten itself into a public relations mess after it named a Palestinian as a finalist for an art prize, then removed her entry and finally pulled out of the sponsorship of the competition altogether.
The artist, Jerusalem-born Larissa Sansour, said Lacoste revoked her entry for the prestigious 25,000-euro ($32,700) prize because her display was “too pro-Palestinian.” The French fashion house denies that and proposed a compromise by offering her a separate showing.
“My work has always been political. That’s why I am so shocked by this whole development,” Sansour told The Media Line. “For Palestinian artists, politics it nothing we choose, but something we can’t avoid even if we try. In the past, exhibitions showing Palestinian work have often been accused of being anything from propagandist and biased to anti-Semitic.”
Sansour had been chosen with seven others as a finalist for the 2011 Lacoste Elysee Prize awarded by the Swiss Musee de l’Elysee, whose theme this year was la joie de vivre (joy of life). Being a finalist entitled her to a grant of 4,000 euros to prepare a portfolio of images for the final judging. Three of her photomontages were accepted last month
Sansour, who lives and works in London, said the sponsors had been given “complete artistic freedom” and encouragement to use “authenticity” or “irony” should they favor such an angle.
Everything was going well and her name had been included on all the literature relating to the prize and on the website. Her three photos depicted a surreal image of a woman opening the door to a room with the Dome of the Rock inside. Another had an olive tree growing out of a crack in the floor and a third showed a woman waiting for an elevator with each floor representing a Palestinian city.
Sansour said her pieces were inspired by the Palestinian’s bid for membership tin the United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which it won at the end of October.
Suddenly, her name was removed and her project withdrawn.
“The museum director told me that my work, although not directly anti-Israeli, was still too pro-Palestinian to support. Lacoste, another staff member later explained, wished to remain apolitical and therefore could not keep my piece in the competition,” Sansour told The Media Line, adding that she has yet to be contacted by anyone from Lacoste.
But the controversy did not end there. The museum issued a statement acknowledging it had suspended the Lacoste Elysee Prize and placed the blame squarely on Lacoste. Lacoste and the museum denied there was a political element to the decision and offered to display her photographs outside the framework of the contest.
“The Musee de l’Elysee has based its decision on the private partner’s wish to exclude Larissa Sansour, one of the prize nominees,” Lacoste said in a statement to The Media Line.
It vehemently denying it had intended to exclude Sansour’s work on political grounds and said it held her work with high regard.
“After receiving all entries, Lacoste and the Musee de l’Elysse felt the work at hand did not belong in the theme of joie de vivre (happiness), which had been the case for other applicants,” Lacoste said. “Lacoste can only be saddened by the current situation. The sole goal was to promote young photographers and provide them with an opportunity to increase their visibility.”
The affair was causing such bad public relations for Lacoste that it announced that it was canceling “once and for all” its participation in the event and its support for the prize.
“Well, I am absolutely overwhelmed by this situation. I did not apply or ask to be nominated for this award in the first place. I was nominated out of the blue. And then to have worked hard on creating these images only to end up in a drama like this is a bit more than I bargained for,” Sansour said.
“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.”