Mosque-inside-church exhibit shut down

23 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Church converted into mosque for Venice Biennale shut down.

MILAN — Authorities in Venice on Friday closed a working mosque in an ex-church that was Iceland’s contribution to the 56th Venice Biennale contemporary art fair on the grounds that it was being improperly used as a place of worship. Swiss-Icelandic artist Christoph Buechel’s exhibit inside a former Roman Catholic Church creating the first mosque ever in the historic center of Venice sparked controversy from the outset. The organisers of the provocative “installation” said their intention had been to probe the boundaries of religious freedom and to highlight the controversy that has arisen over plans to build mosques in Western countries. The chairman of the Icelandic Art Center, which commissioned the project, complained that Venetian authorities “have tried to prevent its realization rather than assist in making it possible,” under the claim “that the Icelandic Pavilion is not art.” “Perhaps most disappointingly, the administration of La Biennale di Venezia … has not supported this artistic endeavor in the way that would have been expected for an organization of its stature and proclaimed advocacy of contemporary art,” Icelandic art center Eirikur Thorlaksson said in a statement.

Iceland chose the deconsecrated Church of Santa Maria della Misericordia for the exhibit titled “The Mosque” in Venice, which for centuries served as a crossroads between East and West and is infused with Middle Eastern architectural influences. City officials said that the provocative stunt had also contravened safety regulations because the number of visitors, including Muslims worshiping in the temporary mosque, had exceeded the building’s capacity. A ‘mihrab’ – a niche in the wall that indicates the direction of Mecca – was installed in the church, which is located in the Cannaregio district of Venice, and prayer carpets laid on the floor.

The mosque had become “one of the most visited exhibitions outside of the main exhibition area of the Biennale,” despite being located in a part of Venice that was hard to find, he said. “It was an initiative aimed at tolerance but the reaction of the city was hardly balanced – this was a temporary mosque that was only meant to stay open for seven months,” said Mohamed Amin Al Ahdab, the leader of the Muslim community in Venice.

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