Lacoste Halts Palestinian Art Support

London.- French luxury goods firm Lacoste last night dramatically terminated its sponsorship of a £21,000 photography prize after it was accused of attempting to censor the work of a London-based Palestinian artist. Art collectors of ArtKabinett network must now view her photography in some other venue. The company made its announcement minutes after the Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne, which was administering the award, had issued a statement appearing to distance itself from a decision to remove Bethlehem-born artist Larissa Sansour from the prize shortlist. The museum and Lacoste faced claims on Monday of attempting to censor art after Ms Sansour, who has exhibited at the Tate Modern, had her status as one of eight nominees for a £21,000 award sponsored by the French company revoked last week. Ms Sansour, 38, who has received critical acclaim for her body of work tackling the issues facing Palestinians, told The Independent that she had been told by senior staff at the museum that the reason for her removal from the shortlist was allegedly because her work was considered by Lacoste to be “too pro-Palestinian”. Museum defends decision Both the museum and Lacoste, which has sponsored the prize for two years, yesterday denied that this was the reason for the decision to remove the artist, insisting it was because her work - entitled Nation Estate - did not fit with the theme for this year’s award, which was “joie de vivre”. But, the museum announced it was suspending the prize, whose terms state that each nominee is given “carte blanche to interpret the theme in whichever way they favored, in a direct or indirect manner, with authenticity or irony”. In a statement, the museum said: “The Musee de l’Elysee has based its decision on the private partner’s wish to exclude Larissa Sansour. We reaffirm our support to [her] for the artistic quality of her work and her dedication... For 25 years, the Musee de l’Elysee has defended with strength artists, their work, freedom of the arts and of speech. With the decision it has taken today, the Musee de l’Elysee repeats its commitment to its fundamental values." Lacoste rejects criticism Shortly after the museum's statement, Lacoste last night strongly rejected criticism of its actions and said it was ending its involvement with the prize with immediate effect. In a statement, the company said: " Lacoste's 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." It added: "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 Elysée Prize." Earlier this week Ms Sansour had criticised the decision to remove her from the shortlist, accusing Lacoste of “ apparent prejudice and censorship”. The apparent rupture between the museum and Lacoste was announced after the publication by The Independent of an email in which the gallery sought to limit the damage caused by the removal of Ms Sansour’s nomination by offering her a chance of a separate exhibition at a future date. The museum also asked Ms Sansour to issue a statement saying that she had “decided to pursue other opportunities”.