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Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-02-14

French Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterrand called on a Paris art school to display an installation that played on a slogan by President Nicolas Sarkozy. The art work was stripped earlier this week prompting censorship allegations.

France’s Culture Minister Fédéric Mitterrand has urged one of the country’s most prestigious art schools to put a work by a Chinese artist back on display after its removal from the building’s façade had prompted accusations of censorship.

The work by 32-year-old Ko Siu Lan, which echoed a slogan coined by French President Nicolas Sarkozy during the 2007 presidential campaign, was taken down on Wednesday by the elite Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts in Paris for being “overtly political”.

“The culture minister has asked the director of the Ecole des Beaux Arts, Henry-Claude Cousseau, to put Ko Siu Lan’s work back on display right away,” Tony Brown, a professor at the art school, told the AFP news agency on Saturday. 

Ko, who had earlier refused to have her work moved inside the building, told AFP she was delighted at the news and would be happy to see the installation back on the building’s façade. 

The controversial work consists of two seven-metre banners bearing the words “work”, “earn”, “more” and “less”, a play on Sarkozy’s 2007 election slogan, “Work more to earn more”.

Together, the messages read “work less” from one side, and “earn more” (or feel more rewarded) from the other. The piece was designed for an art show based on the theme: “The Seven-day weekend”. 

The original campaign slogan, which was intended to usher in a new age of prosperity combined with a strong work ethic, has been widely derided by France’s left-wing opposition – not least since unemployment rose and wages froze in the wake of the economic crisis. 

‘An almost fascist control of art think’ 

In a statement released on Thursday, the college had sought to justify its decision to remove the banners, saying Ko had set up her work earlier than arranged and adding that it should have been clearly labelled that it was a work of art and part of an official exhibition.

It said: “The work carries an overtly political message and the artist wanted, by showing it in public, a spectacular show of her art using a state building devoted to education.” 

Ko subsequently rejected the claim that her work was too political, accusing the college of knee-jerk censorship. 

“Who are they to decide what is and what is not neutral,” she told FRANCE 24 on Friday, adding that “France is not as ‘Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité’ [a reference to the French revolutionary slogan 'liberty, freedom, brotherhood'] as people think. The directors are lacking in moral courage and I don’t think even they know what they are doing. This is an almost fascist control of art.” 

Ko showed FRANCE 24 an email in which the exhibition’s curator allegedly claimed she had been told by the college’s director that the work could jeopardise the institution’s chances of securing state funding.

The opposition Socialist Party had seized on the opportunity to denounce government “censorship” with Bertrand Delanoë, the Socialist mayor of Paris, suggesting that the work be moved to a gallery elsewhere in the French capital. 

Date created : 2010-02-13


    Paris exhibit ‘censors’ Chinese artist’s Sarkozy satire

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