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Unilever withdraws sponsorship fearing the brand would be presented as homophobic

Art or publicity stunt?

Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch company that makes Omo washing powder has withdrawn from a sponsorship deal with Danish artist Flemming Rolighed, fearing he would present them as anti-homosexual.

The company had announced it would give him 70 packages of Omo for a work of art. But, the artist says that “having seen what I made with other brand names, the decision was reversed”. Rolighed’s work has included a piece in which he changed the brand name “Cocio”, a chocolate milk drink, to “Cock” and “Toblerone” to “Tobehomo”.

“We were afraid, that he would create a piece that would make it look as if the multinational Unilever is prejudiced against homosexuals,” said brand manager Gitte Matzen.

Their suspicions were correct: the artist purchased dozens of boxes of the washing powder, which he piled in a phallic tower for a display in Aros Kunstmuseum in Aarhus; each box was labelled “Homo”.

Matzen denies that Unilever has problems with gay people. “We are living in the 21st century and we all have to wash our clothes,” she says. Commenting on Rolighed’s work of art, she said: “He got his PR stunt.”

• Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper under the headline 'Unilever withdraws gay art sponsorship'