Lacoste Pulls Plug On 20k Art Prize

Swiss prize cancelled for being too ‘pro-Palestinian’ says museum

The Swiss based 2011 Elysée art prize has been cancelled after sponsor, Lacoste pulled the plug on the award money. It was worth 25,000 euros (£21,000) and has been a popular event, now in its second year. The controversy arose when the organisers were accused of censoring one of the nominees. for being “too pro-Palestinian”. Jerusalem artist Larissa Sansour admits she was unwillingly taken off of the shortlist. Lacoste has denied this despite The Elysee Museum in Lausanne has accused Lacoste, of the decision to exclude Sansour. The withdrawal of sponsorship comes at a time when cooperate sponsors are few and far between. Earlier this week oil giant BP said it will continue sponsorship of four London arts institutions regardless of concerns  over its environmental record. It also follows the news that two poets had withdrawn their names from the TS Eliot Prize in protest over its sponsorship by a hedge fund.

In a statement the Elysee Museum has said; The Musée de l’Elysée has decided to suspend the organisation of the Lacoste Elysée Prize 2011. Introduced in 2010 to sustain young photographers, the prize is worth 25 000 euros. In the context of the 2011 edition of the prize, eight nominees were selected to take part in the contest. They were asked to produce three photographs on the theme la joie de vivre. With the help of a individual grant of 4 000 euros, each nominee had carte blanche to interpret the theme in which ever way they favoured, in a direct or indirect manner, with authenticity or irony, based upon their existing or as an entirely new creation. An expert jury should have met at the end of January 2012 to select the winner of the Lacoste Elysée Prize 2011.

Lacoste made the following comments to the BBC; “Lacoste’s reputation is at stake for false reasons and wrongful allegations,” it said on Wednesday evening. “After receiving works from all entries, Lacoste and the Musee de l’Elysee felt the work at hand did not belong in the theme of ‘joie de vivre’ (happiness).”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.”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 Elysee Prize.”

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.  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.

The Nation Estate project is a sci-fi photo series conceived in the wake of the Palestinian bid for nationhood at the UN. Three preliminary sketches have been developed especially for the Lacoste Elysée Prize 2011 – an award I was nominated for until Lacoste decided to censor my work and revoke my nomination.

Set within a grim piece of hi-tech architecture, this narrative photo series envisions ‘la joie de vivre’ of a Palestinian state rising from the ashes of the peace process.In this dystopic vision, Palestinians have their state in the form of a single skyscraper: the Nation Estate. Surrounded by a concrete wall, this colossal hi-rise houses the entire Palestinian population – finally living the high life. Each city has its own floor: Jerusalem, third floor; Ramallah, fourth floor. Intercity trips previously marred by checkpoints are now made by elevator. Aiming for a sense of belonging, the lobby of each floor reenacts iconic squares and landmarks – elevator doors on the Jerusalem floor opening onto a full-scale Dome of the Rock. Built ouside the actual city of Jerusalem, the building also has views of the original golden dome from the top floors.The Nation Estate project consists of 8-10 large-format photos. It is scheduled for production in early 2012. In addition to the photo series, a sci-fi video version of Nation Estate is currently in production.

Born in Jerusalem, Sansour studied Fine Art in Copenhagen, London and New York. Her work is interdisciplinary, immersed in the current political dialogue and utilises video art, photography, experimental documentary, the book form and the internet. Sansour borrows heavily from the language of film and pop culture. By approximating the nature, reality and complexity of life in Palestine and the Middle East to visual forms normally associated with entertainment and televised pastime, her grandiose and often humorous schemes clash with the gravity expected from works commenting on the region. References and details ranging from sci-fi and spaghetti westerns to horror films converge with Middle East politics and social issues to create intricate parallel universes in which a new value system can be decoded.

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