Update Dec. 22: The Musée de l’Elysée has decided to suspend the Lacoste Elysée Prize for 2011.
Update 2:30 p.m Dec. 21: Lacoste has now withdrawn its sponsorship from the prize. In a press release, they announced: “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.” Read the company’s full statement at the end of the post.
Larissa Sansour thought that her photographic project “Nation Estate,” which imagined a dystopic Palestine, exemplified ‘la joie de vivre,' the theme of the Lacoste Elysée Prize 2011. The maker of crocodile-emblemed polo shirts disagreed. Sansour says that Lacoste censored her entry for the competition and withdrew her nomination because her work was too pro-Palestinian.
The Lacoste Elysée Prize is awarded by the Swiss Musée de l’Elysée, and is sponsored by the clothing brand. According to a news release from the artist, when Sansour was nominated, she was given €4,000 (around $5,200) and carte blanche to produce a portfolio of images for the final judging. When she submitted her final project in November, three photos for the ”Nation Estate” project were accepted — but a month later Lacoste decided the work was too political and asked Sansour to withdraw. Her name has been removed from the list of nominees on the prize’s Web site.
“Nation Estate” is a series of dystopic sci-fi images based on Palestine’s admission to UNESCO. The artist imagines the state contained within a single skyscraper, with each floor representing a replica of “lost cities” including Jerusalem, Ramallah and Sansour’s own hometown of Bethlehem.
In her statement, Sansour responded to the move, which she deemed censorship. “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.”
Lacoste and the Musée de l'Elysée released a joint statement to the British Journal of Photography: “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."
A request for Lacoste to clarify how Sansour’s work did not fit the theme has not yet been returned. The prize’s Web site says that the other nominees’ work will be available for viewing in January on the Web sites for Lacoste, the Musée de l'Elysée and the magazine ArtReview.
This is the second PR crisis for Lacoste this year. In September, the brand reportedly asked Norwegian police to prevent Anders Behring Breivik, the extremist who admitted to killing 77 people in bomb and gun attacks in July in Norway, from wearing Lacoste clothing in court.
As for Sansour, the Musée de l'Elysée has offered to show her photos in a solo exhibition separate from the prize. She declined.
Update Dec. 21: Statement from Lacoste
Paris, December 21 st 2011.
As part of a partnership with Musée de l’Elysée and regarding the 2011 Lacoste Elysée Prize, Lacoste had approved the inclusion of Larissa Sansour as that of all other entries from the very beginning.
The highly-regarded artwork Ms. Sansour had already produced, for which she had won both critical acclaim and global recognition, was indeed an asset rather than something that could have been held against her at any time.
Lacoste and the Musée de l’Elysée commissioned projects to each artist in the shortlist. The theme was “joie de vivre” (happiness) and each contestant received EUR 4,000 to come up with a dedicated work.
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.
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 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.