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Paris exhibit ‘censors’ Chinese artist’s Sarkozy satire

A Chinese artist has accused France's top art school, the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, of censorship after it removed from its facade an installation satirising a 2007 campaign slogan of French President Nicolas Sarkozy.


A Chinese artist has accused France’s most prestigious art college of censorship after it removed her installation for being “overtly political”.

Ko Siu Lan’s installation was two seven-metre banners hanging outside the elite Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, carrying words which together evoked an election slogan used by President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The banners bore 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, in fitting with the exhibition’s theme: “The Seven-day weekend”.


“It is very shocking and it is very painful,” Ko said. “If this was China you would expect this kind of censorship. And it isn’t even that provocative. What are they afraid of?”

Ko rejected a statement from the college which stated that her message was too political and accused the college of knee-jerk censorship.

“Who are they to decide what is and what is not neutral,” she asked, 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 even think even they know what they are doing. This is an almost fascist control of art.”

“Too explosive”

Ko said she had been alerted to the removal of the work by the exhibition's curator Clare Carolin, who had tried to stop it being taken down.

She showed FRANCE 24 an email in which Carolin said she had been summoned to the school's director, Henri-Claude Cousseau.

The email read: “I was told by Henri-Claude that your work was too explosive to stay in situ, that it had already caused offence to [college] staff members and people from the Ministry of Education, that this was an especially sensitive moment given that [college] is about to renew its funding agreement with the ministry, that the consequences of leaving it there after 5 pm this afternoon could be disastrous.”


In a written statement, the college said Ko had set up her work earlier than arranged, 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.

“The direction of the college considers that in presenting the art in this way, she was manipulating the establishment.”

The college added that they were happy to display Ko’s work indoors as part of the larger exhibition – a proposition she immediately dismissed.

“It would ruin the integrity of my art and render it meaningless,” she said. “If they put it inside they will destroy it.”

Ko insists the college has known since December exactly how her work would be presented and showed FRANCE 24 a catalogue for the exhibition in which her work was clearly displayed.

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