Venice Officials Threaten to Shut Down the Mosque at the Biennale’s Icelandic Pavilion

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Photo: Pablo Enriquez/2015

The Times is reporting that Venice city officials are trying to shut down an installation at the Icelandic pavilion in which the artist Christoph Büchel has been operating a festive, fully functioning mosque inside what was once a Catholic church. The work was made, in part, as commentary on the fact that despite that nearly 20,000 Muslims live in Venice and its environs, there is no mosque in the historic city center. But the controversy also highlights the interesting role that the once-powerful Venice played in world affairs, and just how long the cultural and religious conflicts between Christianity and Islam have festered.

In a letter to the pavilion’s commissioner, the city representatives argued that the installation could be the target of a terrorist threat, either by an anti-Islamic faction or Islamic extremists who are opposed to the Islamic worship happening within the consecrated walls of a church (even if it hasn't been used as a church for many years.)

The pavilion directors say they plan to open the installation tomorrow for worship and will continue to do so until the Biennale ends in November.

Read the rest of the Times story for context, and if you’re in Venice, by all means check this out in case it actually does get shut down. And if you’re not in Venice, go check out “Wael Shawky: Cabaret Crusades” at MoMA PS1, which seeks to retell the story of the crusades from the Arab perspective. A film Shawky made focuses on Venice’s role in the clashes between Christianity and Islam that happened in the Middle Ages — and, in a nice touch, it features handmade Venetian glass puppets.