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Police Shut Down Mosque Installation at Venice Biennale
by Randy Kennedy
The police in Venice closed an art installation in the form of a functioning mosque on Friday morning, after city officials declared the art project a security hazard and said that the artist who created it, Christoph Büchel, had not obtained proper permits and had violated laws by allowing too many people inside the mosque to worship.
The provocative project, made inside a long unused Catholic church, serves as Iceland's national pavilion for the 56th Venice Biennale and was intended in part to highlight the absence of a mosque in the historic center of Venice, a city whose art and architecture were deeply influenced by Islamic trade and culture. The issues the installation raised also went to the heart of the debate raging across Europe about Muslim worship and culture as immigration from Islamic countries rises.
Even before the installation, called "The Mosque," opened for its first Friday Prayer on May 8, it upset Venetian city officials and police authorities, who warned that it posed a security threat because of possible violence either by anti-Islamic extremists or Islamic extremists upset that a mosque has been created inside a church. Catholic church officials also became involved in the dispute, contending that the church where the mosque was created, Santa Maria della Misericordia, in the Cannaregio neighborhood, had never been officially deconsecrated — despite being mostly closed for more than 40 years — and so it was improper to use it for purposes other than Catholic worship. Since the opening, hundreds of Muslim residents of Venice and surrounding areas have come to see or worship at the mosque, without incident.
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