From the Editors
[The following was originally published by Electronic Intifada.]
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 theLacoste 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 toThe 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.
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 be 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.
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