Lacoste Censor Larissa Sansour

I was shocked to read that high-end French clothing chain Lacoste had demanded the removal of Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour from the shortlist for the €25,000 Lacoste Elysée Prize, and even more disgusted that the Swiss Musee de l’Elysée, which I had thought to be an international venue with some integrity had bowed to their demand.

Earlier in the year Sansour had been nominated as one of eight artists short-listed for the 2011 prize, and along with the others received an initial grant – as the Museum page states*

” With the aid of a grant of 4,000 euros, each nominee will be invited to develop a photographic project around the theme “la joie de vivre”. They will be free to interpret this in which ever way they favour – in a direct or indirect manner, with authenticity or irony, based upon their existing work, or as an entirely new creation.”

Sansour submitted three photographs for her project ‘Nation Estate‘ to the museum in November 2011, and according to her press release, they “were accepted, and she was congratulated by the prize administrators on her work and professionalism.”

In what appears to be a simple act of political censorship, Lacoste refused to accept her work, regarding it as “too pro-Palestinian.” You can read more about this on the ‘Electronic Intifada‘ blog, as well as on Sansour’s own site. The museum’s web site removed all mention of Sansour from the material about the Lacoste Prize around a week ago.

Much of the sponsorship money that goes into major museums unfortunately comes from companies wanting to improve their rather unsavoury images – and in the UK we have the example of BP, a major promoter of climate change and environmental catastrophes such as the Canadian tar sands sponsoring our major public galleries – something I’ve covered in such events as Climate Rush’s Tate Britain Oil Spill Picnic and the incredible Rev Billy’s Tate BP Exorcism.

But damaging though this sponsorship is, so far as I am aware it has not been allowed to erode the artistic integrity of the institutions in the same way as this.

Further Developments

Since I posted, Lacoste has now completely withdrawn from this prize. You can read more about it at the British Journal of Photography and also at the Washington Post. *When I checked at the museum site just now the page about the prize it was empty.

I find it hard not to feel that Lacoste and the Elysée museum have both behaved incredibly stupidly in thinking they could get away with this kind of behaviour. It really is shameful that the museum did stand up to Lacoste – even if it would have meant losing the sponsorship, which in the event they have in any case done.

Lacoste’s statement says “Today, Lacoste reputation is at stake for false reasons and wrongful allegations” but I find it hard to take their statement (quoted in its entirety on the Washington Post) seriously.  The reasons and allegations seem all too clear and all too true. Museums and artists would be well advised to avoid crocodiles, and certainly not sell out to them, and the only person to come out of this with any credit is Larissa Sansour.

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