Photographer Larissa Sansour was among eight artists shortlisted for the 2011 edition of the Lacoste Elysée Prize – until last week when, she says, she was asked to leave the shortlist as her work was too political.
“Lacoste stated their refusal to support Sansour’s work, labelling it ‘too pro-Palestinian’,” reads a statement released by the artist. Sansour was selected for herNation Estate project, which “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.”
Soren Lind, a friend of the artist, states the Museum had selected Sansour after seeing three of these images. “It was only last week that they called and said that unfortunately the work had been vetoed by someone at Lacoste,” he tells BJP. “We don’t know who, but we were told that it was a high-ranking person [at Lacoste].”
Lind adds: “We enquired about the reasons, and we were first told that the work was too pro-Palestinian, and then, when I called again, they told me that Lacoste wanted to remain a-political as a brand. For me, that’s one and the same thing.”
Reached by BJP, the Musée de l’Elysée and Lacoste have released a joint statement. It reads: “Larissa Sansour’s photographic project Nation Estate was discarded because it didn’t fit within the theme of this year’s edition of the Lacoste Elysée Prize, which is ‘La Joie de Vivre’. We regret the political interpretation that has arisen from our decision.”
Lacoste and the Musée de l’Elysée have yet to respond to BJP‘s request to explain how Sansour’s project didn’t fit the Prize’s theme.
Sansour adds that she was asked by the museum to approve “a statement saying that she withdrew from her nomination ‘in order to pursue other opportunities’.” Sansour has refused.
Both organisations now say that Sansour’s work remains of the highest quality, “which is why the Museum has offered to exhibit Nation Estate” as a solo exhibition in the near future. Sansour has also declined this offer.
In a statement, Sansour says: “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.”
UPDATE (21 December at 7.21pm): Lacoste has now announced it would cease its sponsorship of the overall prize. In a statement released this evening, the Musée de l’Elysée and Lacoste say: “Today, Lacoste reputation is at stake for false reasons and wrongful allegations. Never, was Lacoste’s intention to exclude any work on political grounds. The brand would not have otherwise agreed to the selection of Ms. Sansour in the first place.”
The statement continues: “After receiving works from all entries, Lacoste and the Musée de l’Elysée felt the work at hand did not belong in the theme of “joie de vivre” (happiness), which had been the case for other applicants at previous steps in the selection process. After agreeing with the Musée de l’Elysée, the decision was made known to Ms. Sansour and she was presented by the Musée de l’Elysée with an offer to hold an exhibition of her works in a different forum.”
Lacoste says that it “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. In light of this situation and to avoid any misunderstanding, Lacoste has decided to cancel once and for all its participation in this event and its support to the Elysée Prize.”
UPDATE 2 [21 December at 9.30pm]: The Musée de l’Elysée has now confirmed that it decided to scrap the Lacoste Elysée Prize altogether after Lacoste decided to exclude Larissa Sansour from the shortlist.
In a statement released this evening, the museum says: “The Musée de l’Elysée has decided to suspend the organisation of the Lacoste Elysée Prize 2011. The Musée de l’Elysée has based its decision on the private partner’s wish to exclude Larissa Sansour, one of the prize nominees. 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.”
It adds: “For 25 years, the Musée de l’Elysée has defended with strength artists, their work, freedom of the arts and of speech. With the decision it has taken today, the Musée de l’Elysée repeats its commitment to its fundamental values.”
For more on Sansour’s work, visit www.larissasansour.com.