Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Palestinian artist, Larissa Sansour banned and censored by French company Lacoste from Lacoste Elysée Prize in Photography.

Dear friends,
over the last few days, more and more information has been unfolding about the banning and censorshp of the Palestinian artist, Larissa Sansour and her stunning photographic art work, Nation Estate.

I have included Ali Abunimah's original article on the censoring of Sansour, as well as Abunimah's follow up article which sheds some light on why Sansour may have been censored. According to Abunimah's research, one of the largest shareholders of Lacoste is a major donor to Israel and Zionist causes.

In the wake of the controversy, Musée de l’Elysée cancelled the competition altogether and Lacoste issued a statement pulling out of funding the competition in the future.  Links to both statements can be found in Ali Abunimah's second article below.

I have also included Sansour's stunning images. You can visit her website here to see more of her wonderful work.

Personally, I fell in love with her photographs as soon as I saw them.   As a huge sci-fantasy fan, not only do I love the political content of her work, I also think her dystopic sci-fantasy depiction of a futuristic Palestinian nation estate is a stunning re-imagining of the Palestinian struggle.

in solidarity, Kim


French clothing firm Lacoste censors, expels Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour from prestigious contest

Image from Larissa Sansour’s Nation Estate project censored by the Lacoste Elysée Prize
The high-end French clothing chain Lacoste has demanded the removal of work by Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour from the shortlist for the €25,000 Lacoste Elysee Prize that is awarded by the Swiss Musee de l’Elysee with sponsorship from the firm.

A Palestinian who is “too pro-Palestinian”

Sansour was among eight finalists shortlisted for the 2011 prize. According to a press release issued by Sansour, “Lacoste stated their refusal to support Sansour’s work, labelling it ‘too pro-Palestinian.’”
This latest instance of apparent censorship of Palestinian artists by a cultural institution comes just months after the Museum of Children’s Art in Oakland, California censored an exhibit of art by children in Gaza just before its planned opening under pressure from anti-Palestinian Zionist groups.

Sansour refuses to sign statement that she withdrew voluntarily

Sansour, who is based in London, is a native of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. The press release explains:
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.
Søren Lind, Sansour’s assistant, told The Electronic Intifada today that the Lacoste company had yet to give any public response on the matter. A Google-cached image of the official Elysée Prize website captured by The Electronic Intifada proves that Sansour’s name was on the shortlist until at least 12 December, and then removed on the current version.

Imagining a Palestinian state as science fiction

Sansour’s multimedia project Nation Estate was “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.”

Sansour was born in Jerusalem and her multimedia work has been exhibited all over the world. The photo above, from the exhibit, is published courtesy of Sansour. More can be seen at her website.


Image from Larissa Sansour’s Nation Estate project censored by the Lacoste Elysée Prize

Owner of Lacoste, which censored Palestinian artist, is major donor to Israel, Zionist causes

Image from Larissa Sansour’s Nation Estate project censored by the Lacoste Elysée Prize
One of the largest shareholders of high-end French fashion firm Lacoste is a major donor to Israel and Zionist causes.

Lacoste has been at the center of a scandal over the company’s insistence that Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour be forced out of the prestigious Lacoste Elysée Prize in Photography.
The Musée de L’Elysée in Lausanne, Switzerland, which administers the prize today took the extraordinary step of canceling the 2011 contest in protest at Lacoste’s insistence that Sansour be excluded. Lacoste has also announced that it will no longer sponsor the contest, which now appears to be dead.

Ownership of Lacoste

Philippe Nordmann, a Swiss national, is CEO of Maus Frères SA a family-owned holding company which owns stakes in several retail brands. Maus owns France-based textile firm Devanlay which holds a 35 percent stake in Lacoste SA. The other 65 percent of Lacoste SA is owned directly by the Lacoste family, according to the Lacoste company press kit.
Devanlay is the global manufacturer and distributor of Lacoste’s clothing and hold the license for the Lacoste brand in the United States.

Lacoste stakeholder’s close ties to Israeli president

Nordmann, a direct descendant of the founder of Maus Frères SA, has been a major philanthropist to Israel and Zionist causes.
He is a member of the international board of governors of the Peres Center for Peace, and almost certainly a donor to the organization named after Shimon Peres, the current President of Israel.

Supporting Judaization of Palestinian land at expense of Palestinians

Earlier this month Nordmann was at Peres’ official residence to receive the “Distinguished Citizen’s” award given by the Beautiful Israel Yakir council. According to The Jerusalem Post:
The council recognizes individuals, organizations, institutions and industrial plants that have undertaken projects to beautify the environment and to improve the quality of life.

The Magshim (Realization) award went to the 35 development towns from Kiryat Shmona to Eilat that are collectively celebrating the 60th anniversary of David Ben-Gurion’s decision to send new immigrants to barren stretches of rock and sand all over the country, and to establish vibrant communities.
In contrast to this Zionist mythology, the areas where dozens of Jews-only “development towns” were built were not barren, but had been the homes of ethnically-cleased Palestinians who now live as refugees, forbidden from returning because they do not meet Israel’s ethno-religious criteria. Nordmann funds many projects in Israeli towns, the Post adds.
Ironically, Sansour’s censored art project Nation Estate imagined the reconstruction of the Palestinian homeland in the form of a skyscraper.

Why was Sansour forced out of the Elysée Prize?

There’s no evidence that Nordmann had a direct role in the decision to force Sansour out of the contest, but given the mystery surrounding the affair, it is fair to note as a matter of public record his company’s major stake in, and influence over Lacoste as its brand manager and distributor, and his public support and philanthropy for Israel and Zionism.
The Musée de L’Elysée confirmed in its press release announcing the suspension of the contest that Larissa Sansour’s work had been withdrawn from the Lacoste Elysée Prize under pressure from the sponsor - Lacoste:
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.

A high-ranking someone at Lacoste”

Sansour herself told Lebanon’s Daily Star:
Last week the director of the museum [called] me and [said] 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.
Images captured by The Electronic Intifada prove that Sansour was at least until 12 December listed as a nominee and then subsequently removed from the competition’s official website.

Lacoste’s denial

In a 21 December statement, reproduced at The Washington Post, Lacoste denied a political motive for the censorship of Sansour, and claimed that her work, uniquely, out of the eight nominees did not fit the theme.
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.
This explanation makes no sense. Why would the financial sponsor of an art competition that was to judged by an independent jury of artists prejudge the contest by removing one artist in advance?
This was a point the Musée de L’Elysée made in its own statement: “An expert jury should have met at the end of January 2012 to select the winner of the Lacoste Elysée Prize 2011.”
That won’t happen because someone at Lacoste, we don’t know who, did not want Larissa Sansour’s work to be seen.

Corporate censorship of the arts

Lacoste’s reaction and the Musée de L’Elysée’s failure to stand up earlier to the company’s pressure only vindicates Sansour’s own warning about corporate involvement in the arts.  In her 20 December press release breaking news of the scandal, Sansour said:
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.”
But there is a bright side. The clumsy and crude attempts at censorship – whoever is behind them – have backfired, and more people are likely to see and appreciate Sansour’s work than ever before.

No comments: