Swiss museum cancels competition after prize-sponsor Lacoste rejects Palestinian artist

on 38 Comments
Nation Estate  Jerusalem Floor
Photo by Larissa Sansour of her imagined “Jerusalem Floor”

Here is a shocking story that tells us how the world is changing before our eyes. A Swiss museum staging a prestigious international art competition selects a Palestinian artist as one of eight finalists. The sponsor of the prize– the Lacoste clothing company– then demands that she be excluded. The museum wavers and tries to buy the artist off with a solo exhibition separate from the prize.. She refuses.

And the museum cancels the whole competition!

Now let’s go through the events. This morning at 10: 43 AM ET the Washington Post published Lacoste Elysée Prize withdraws nomination of Palestinian photographer

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.


As for Sansour, the Musée de l’Elysée has offered to show her photos in a solo exhibition separate from the prize. She declined.

From Larissa Sansour’s website Cairo Taxilogue, her description

Nation Estate Olive Tree

Nation Estate (2012)
Photo and video

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.

And now the climax of the story. Shortly after the Washington Post published its story, I received a press release (below) informing “The Musée de l’Elysée has decided to suspend the organisation of the Lacoste Elysée Prize 2011.”

Suspension of the Lacoste Elysée Prize 2011

Lausanne, 21 December 2011 – 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.

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.

Sam Stourdzé, Director of the Musée de l’Elysée

Now Lacoste has issued a statement saying that it has withdrawn sponsorship from the prize competition also, “once and for all”; because its sole objection to Sansour was that her anticipated exhibit did not fulfill the “joie de vivre” description of the show.

Incredible. This is an amazing story I hope to see on the silver screen one day about an honorable museum, a coveted prize, an artist with a vision, and the long arm of repression.

I hope Sansour takes up the Musée de l’Elysée offer to show her photos in a solo exhibition and she becomes a madly famous photographer on the world stage.

(Hat Tip Omar Barghouti)

UPDATE: Due to editor Weiss’s error, headline initially said French museum. Thanks to those who corrected us. We fixed it.

About Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a mother, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

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38 Responses

  1. Les
    December 21, 2011, 4:54 pm

    One step backward — the museum tries to buy her off.
    One step forward — she refuses
    Second step forward — the museum cancels the exhibit

  2. Scott
    December 21, 2011, 5:00 pm

    Annie, Thanks. Larissa Sansour’s website is a real treat.

    I enjoyed the above link, and sent it to my wife and kids.

    • Annie Robbins
      December 21, 2011, 5:29 pm

      thanks scott! i didn’t get much time to snoop around her website when i linked to cairo taxilogue. i better head over there and do some more look see.

  3. Matthew Graber
    December 21, 2011, 5:08 pm

    On the main mondoweiss page, the article is entitled “French museum cancels competition after prize-sponsor Lacoste rejects Palestinian artist”

    • Philip Weiss
      December 21, 2011, 5:14 pm

      thanks matthew. we fixed the error. phil

    • Hostage
      December 22, 2011, 8:10 am

      On the main mondoweiss page, the article is entitled “French museum cancels competition after prize-sponsor Lacoste rejects Palestinian artist”

      Good catch. It should have been entitled Palestinians still ineligible for “the joy of living” (la joie de vivre).

  4. pabelmont
    December 21, 2011, 5:14 pm

    It appears that it was the museum, and not the sponsor, which had final approval of entries. The museum accepted Sansour, and that should have been all there was to it. The sponsor seems to have violated a contract (people do not undertake large projects like this without a contract), and there should be a lawsuit to come.

    Lawsuit’s take time. It might be possible to obtain a judicial order that the sponsor provide the money so the whole thing could continue. Maybe it will, after a delay for litigation, “sponsored” by an organization which — it seems — will no longer sponsor this prize competition.

  5. Carllarc
    December 21, 2011, 5:34 pm

    sort of related in a rather distant way; the Teach for Palestine ( school got a small grant to buy cameras for their students; the pictures the kids took about their daily lives in the refugee camps around Nablus are periodically posted

    • Annie Robbins
      December 21, 2011, 5:59 pm

      awesome carl, thanks for linking.

      • Carllarc
        December 21, 2011, 6:06 pm

        just to let you know, I find refuge in your (mondoweiss) site; but, this very story shows just how penetrating the Israel-can-do-no-harm brand really is — even an artist is barred.

        there are the righteous types, like mondoweiss; but I fear there is not much room for hope against the monolithic monster.

      • chet
        December 21, 2011, 7:35 pm

        The “monolithic monster” tag nails it – the Swiss art show, a lawsuit against a small Washington state co-op over boycotting WB products, organized hasbara campaigns on the most obscure blogs, etc., etc., ad nauseum – no issue is too insignificant, no stone is ever left unturned.

        Pro-Palestinian? Against Israeli actions and policies? You’re going to get “the treatment”.

      • Annie Robbins
        December 21, 2011, 8:33 pm

        well carl, we’re making inroads. keep the faith. frankly i think somebody bit off a tad more than they could chew with this one…a little different more upscale than a children’s art show at mocha but it’s probable there’s a similar theme happening.

  6. eGuard
    December 21, 2011, 5:46 pm

    Previous time Lacoste hit the headlines: “please stop Breivik wearing our shirts”.

  7. WeAreAllMadeOfStars
    December 21, 2011, 5:51 pm

    Le Musée de l’Elysée is a very famous museum in Lausanne, since I live nearby this city and am un ami du Musée de l’Elysée, I’ll watch this closely. Elysée is the same name of the famous Paris avenue -> Avenue des Champs Elysée

    “I hope Sansour takes up the Musée de l’Elysée offer to show her photos in a solo exhibition and she becomes a madly famous photographer on the world stage.”
    So do I

    • MRW
      December 21, 2011, 7:28 pm


      Tell them we’re proud of them!

  8. Woody Tanaka
    December 21, 2011, 5:57 pm

    Fantastic, Musée de l’Elysée.

    And I’ll miss the shirts, but I won’t wear the emblem of such a heinous company.

    • iamuglow
      December 21, 2011, 6:11 pm

      I’m with you. I’m going to ceremoniously remove the crocodiles from my shirts & replace em with Palestine pins.

    • MRW
      December 21, 2011, 7:26 pm

      I’m with you, Woody. Last time I ever wear a Lacoste anything.

      I hope this becomes a public relations disaster for them worldwide.

    • Annie Robbins
      December 21, 2011, 11:17 pm

      did you open the wapo link?

      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.

      although i doubt now that the Musée de l’Elysée has canceled the show the viewing will not be available … in January on the Web sites for Lacoste, the Musée de l’Elysée and the magazine ArtReview

      • dahoit
        December 22, 2011, 10:20 am

        Does Lacoste make prison jump suits?(Maybe for the Palestinians)
        And how is Lowes doing?

  9. justicewillprevail
    December 21, 2011, 7:10 pm

    And had she been Israeli Jewish, and her photos deemed ‘political’ would Lacoste have dared censor her? Palestinians suffer on all levels, people are so brainwashed that they think a Palestinian voice is ‘political’ or ‘subversive’ when they offer their perception of events. Israeli voices are so ubiquitous, so used to lecturing everybody that hardly anybody questions the constant political nature of their prejudiced propaganda. It is all part of the project to deny Palestinians a legitimate existence, and characterise them in the Israeli racist way as all ‘terrorists’. Allowing them an equal status is anathema to Israelis who are determined to keep them subjugated and voiceless.

  10. MRW
    December 21, 2011, 7:33 pm

    Sansour’s Nation Estate is very witty.

  11. Daniel Rich
    December 21, 2011, 7:36 pm

    Q: carte blanche

    R: carte blessez

  12. Taxi
    December 22, 2011, 12:47 am

    As a longtime friend and admirer of REAL alligators, and on their behalf, I object to Lacoste’s use of an alligator’s noble ancient image to support and enable the crimes of Apartheid israel. May the alligators of the world chomp on Apartheid israel and Lacoste’s behind till they all cry uncle.

    And of course a thousand hurrah’s to Larissa and the bosses of the Musée de l’Elysée – defenders of freedom and justice for both the Palestinian people AND the exploited alligators of the world.

    All animals love their freedom. And all Apartheiders love their prisons and cages.

    • Walid
      December 22, 2011, 9:29 am

      “I object to Lacoste’s use of an alligator’s noble ancient image to support and enable the crimes of Apartheid israel.”

      Taxi, Lacoste’s harm is more than just enabling the crimes of Israel, according to Wiki, it’s also doing a lot of damage to the environment in China:

      “In July 2011, Lacoste – along with other major sportswear brands including Nike, Adidas and Abercrombie & Fitch – was the subject of a report by the environmental group Greenpeace entitled ‘Dirty Laundry’. Lacoste is accused of working with suppliers in China who, according the findings of the report, contribute to the pollution of the Yangtze and Pearl Rivers. Samples taken from one facility belonging to the Youngor Group located on the Yangtze River Delta and another belonging to the Well Dyeing Factory Ltd. located on a tributary of the Pearl River Delta revealed the presence of hazardous and persistent hormone disruptor chemicals, including alkylphenols, perfluorinated compounds and perfluorooctane sulfonate.”

  13. RoHa
    December 22, 2011, 1:44 am

    I recall that in the 80s a Thai (?) knock-off company started producing polo shirts with two Lacoste alligators. The alligators were Mr. and Mrs Alligator (ahem) involved in the production of more alligators.

  14. Chaos4700
    December 22, 2011, 3:18 am

    That’s funny. There’s no Witty here to protest about censorship?

  15. eGuard
    December 22, 2011, 3:45 am

    Electronic Intifada has a follow up: owner of lacoste, which censored palestinian artist, is major donor israel [and] zionist causes

    • Cliff
      December 22, 2011, 4:13 am

      Zionists love censorship.

      Either calling for ‘balance’ when a Palestinian voice is heard in the institutionally pro-Israel American MSM (via the political economy of the mass media) or outright media blackouts.

      • justicewillprevail
        December 22, 2011, 5:02 am

        Zionists also love ignorance, and are determined to keep the world in ignorance of what they are doing to Palestinians every day of the week.

  16. Walid
    December 22, 2011, 9:13 am

    A few hours ago, Ali Abunimah wrote:

    “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.”

  17. Chu
    December 22, 2011, 9:55 am

    This l’Elysée example can provide US institutions a clear precedent
    to stop the poisoning of US art institutions with the back room
    negotiating & propaganda from corrupt Israel and it’s American
    Zionist establishment. Where’s is the freedom of expression?
    Hollywood would never, at this time, sell a movie about the Palestinian

    • dahoit
      December 22, 2011, 10:27 am

      Yeah,and no anti war movies either at this time,and last years hurt locker pick was revealing.
      Look all around US,the military is promoted in Applebees,in the NFL,on multiple commercials and advertising.And none of this was visible in the Vietnam era,as that war didn’t address Israeli concerns.
      I was watching Leni Riefenstal and a football game broke out.

      • Chu
        December 22, 2011, 11:55 am

        Here’s a take on Hurt Locker’s success

        To earn its gold, “Hurt Locker” had to break what producer Greg Shapiro called “The Iraq War Curse,” referring to all the movies touching on that conflict that had failed to find an audience. It had to weather attacks in the media and from some in the military who questioned the realism of how it portrayed the bomb-removal unit…

        …Summit turned the Oscar strategy over to PR firm 42 West, where veteran campaigner Cynthia Swartz called the shots. Swartz was criticized for waiting until early December to send out the DVDs, even though the whole strategy revolved around getting the movie seen by as many voters as possible.

        She also had to get attention from Academy voters and guild members for a movie without any marquee names and a subject that put off many people already weary of a war that never seemed to end. What Swartz did right was to center the campaign around Bigelow, a woman who directed with as much glory and guts as any man, and to feature writer/producer Mark Boal for his screenplay and real-life story as a journalist who was embedded with a bomb disposal unit in Iraq.

        She had bound copies of the “Hurt Locker” script sent to every member of the Writers Guild of America, earning guild honors for the original screenplay and the same award at the Oscars.

        Meanwhile, Fox seemed to downplay awards campaigning, letting Cameron take the lead. And what Cameron wanted to talk about was how frustrated he was that his actors, whose performances were captured by computer-generated technology, were not taken as seriously as live-action actors.

        While his righteousness was sincere, that didn’t go over well with many real-life actors who feel threatened by the possibility that they might be replaced by synthetic performers. That backlash might have mattered, because actors are by far the largest bloc of voters in the Academy.

  18. Woody Tanaka
    December 22, 2011, 11:13 am

    “Look all around US,the military is promoted in Applebees,in the NFL,on multiple commercials and advertising”

    The worst, speaking as a baseball fan, is the San Diego Padres’s “camo” uniforms. Ugly as sin. Makes each of the players look like jingo clowns.

    “I was watching Leni Riefenstal and a football game broke out.”

    Oh, I am so stealing this.

  19. DICKERSON3870
    December 24, 2011, 11:36 pm

    RE: “Swiss museum cancels competition after prize-sponsor Lacoste rejects Palestinian artist” ~ Annie

    Name: Boycott Lacoste
    Description: A group for individuals who are incensed that the clothing company Lacoste disqualified Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour’s “sci-fi photo series” Nation Estate as one of the finalists for the Lacoste Elysée Prize 2011 ostensibly due to its failure to fulfill the “joie de vivre” description of the show (lol).
    LINK –

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