From Iceland — Iceland's Mosque Installation In Venice Closed By Police

Iceland’s Mosque Installation In Venice Closed By Police

Published May 26, 2015

Gabríel Benjamin
Photo by
Bjarni Grímsson

Iceland’s contribution to this year’s Venice Biennale, ‘THE MOSQUE’, was closed on Friday by the police who claim the artist didn’t have the correct permits, and had violated laws by allowing too many people to worship in it at the same time, reports The New York Times.

The installation saw an old and unused church, Santa Maria della Misericordia, being turned into a functional mosque in the heart of Venice. Police had previously warned artist Christoph Büchel and curator Nína Magnúsdóttir that the exhibit was ill positioned to be monitored adequately given “the current international situation and the possible risks of attack by some religious extremist.” The Catholic Church also insisted that it should have been consulted before the church was used in this fashion, even though it had been privately owned since 1973. These were, however, not the reasons given for closing the exhibit.

By its nature, the piece was provocative, raising tough questions about Islam’s role in modern Western society. On the day the installation was closed, the Icelandic Art Centre that organised the exhibit sent out a condemning press release. In it, the organisation states: “The purpose of THE MOSQUE is to draw attention to the political institutionalization of segregation and prejudice in society, and to catalyze reflection upon the conflicts that arise from the sorts of governmental policies on immigration that lie at the heart of global ethnic and religious conflicts today. The aim of our project, a peaceful and beautiful one, is to provide a platform for dialogue about and communication between different cultural positions, and to thus make a positive contribution to this dialogue on the international stage.”

Further, the Art Centre claims that it, the artist, and curator “have accommodated each request and obstacle presented by the City Council; and each time, the City Council has responded with a new set of objections and obstacles, above all claiming that the Icelandic Pavilion is not art despite the fact that the Icelandic Pavilion is the official response to an invitation from La Biennale di Venezia and is our nation’s contribution to the 56th edition of this remarkable global exhibition.”

Cristiana Costanzo, a spokesperson for the Biennale, told The New York Times that the festival officials had taken part in “countless meetings between the local authorities and the representatives of the Icelandic pavilion, actively working towards finding a solution that would make it possible to activate the Icelandic pavilion.”

‘THE MOSQUE’ was the only functional mosque near Venice’s historic city centre.

You may also be interested in the following articles about Iceland’s contribution to the 56th Venice Biennale:

Mosque Icelandic Pavilion by Bjarni GrímssonIceland-Made Mosque In Venice A Threat To Public Safety, Says Police
Iceland’s contribution to this year’s Venice Biennale has come under fire for being what the police call a security threat.


Mosque Icelandic Pavilion by Bjarni GrímssonVenetian Officials Threaten To Close ‘THE MOSQUE’
Venetian officials have threatened to close the Icelandic exhibition, ‘THE MOSQUE’, after response by Catholic authorities.

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