Joanna Blythman’s blog: Palestinian photographer censored

• Dec 20, 2011 • Tags:

Until last week, the talented, internationally recognised Palestinian photographer, Larissa Sansour, was one of eight hopeful artists shortlisted for the 2012 €25,000 Lacoste Elysée Prize, awarded by the Swiss Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne, Switzerland. Now the eponymous fashion label sponsor has stepped in and demanded that her nomination be revoked because her work is ‘too pro-Palestinian’.The museum tried to argue but was unsuccessful: Lacoste sponsors not only the prize but also the museum. Understandably, Sansour, who has already exhibited in the Tate in London and L’Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, is saddened and shocked by this development. “This year Palestine was officially admitted to UNESCO, yet we are still being silenced.”

Sansour’s work is rather beautiful and thought provoking. It richly merits an audience. Her shortlisted work, Nation Estate, was conceived in the wake of the Palestinian bid for UN membership. Nation Estate (above) 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.

As a nominee, Sansour had been awarded a bursary of €4,000 and given a free hand to produce a portfolio of images for the final judging in 2012. In November, three photos for Sansour’s Nation Estate project were accepted. She was congratulated on her work and professionalism by the administrators of the prize and her name was included on all the literature relating to the prize and on the website as an official nominee. Now Sansour’s name has since been removed, and her project has been withdrawn from an upcoming issue of contemporary art magazine ArtReview introducing the nominated artists.

In an attempt to disguise the reasons for her dismissal, Sansour was asked to go quietly by approving a statement saying that she withdrew from her nomination ‘in order to pursue other opportunities’. Sansour has refused. Quite right too. The world needs to know how Palestine is routinely censored at all levels.

What lies behind Lacoste’s intervention. Is it straightforward racism? It’s hard to imagine that the company would dare to silence any other artist on the basis of ethnicity. Or is it corporate cowardice because Palestine is deemed to be too hot to handle politically? Either way, it stinks.

Originally published on today (20th December 2012)

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