Commotion in Venice over an installation by Swiss artist

Monday, May 11, 2015
Commotion in Venice over an installation by Swiss artist

The Icelandic Art Center (IAC), in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture of Iceland, is proud to announce THE MOSQUE: The First Mosque in the Historic City of Venice, as its national pavilion at the 56th International Art Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia.

Commotion in Venice over an installation by Swiss artist
The Icelandic Art Center (IAC), in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture of Iceland, is proud to announce THE MOSQUE: The First Mosque in the Historic City of Venice, as its national pavilion at the 56th International Art Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia. 
Initiated by artist Christoph Büchel, working in collaboration with the Muslim Communities of Venice and Iceland, and curated by Nina Magnúsdóttir,THE MOSQUE will engage the many thousands of Muslim residents of Venice who come from 29 different nations, and welcome Venetian residents as well as tourists, including the thousands of Muslim travelers to Venice annually. THE MOSQUE will be installed in the historic church of Santa Maria della Misericordia in the Cannaregio sestiere. This structure dates to the 10th century and was restored in 1864, but has been closed for over forty years. For the full seven months of the Biennale,THE MOSQUE will serve as a place of activity for the Venice Muslim Community and will offer an ongoing schedule of educational and cultural programs available to the general public.
It turned out to be a success, many Venice muslims visit the church to pray. They look at the installation as a promotion of tolerance en dialogue between culture and religion. However, the Venice city council has a different opinion.  The committee for mublic order and security has questions about the installation, "they asked that the pavillion is a place of art and nothing more". This was told by Vittorio Zappalorto to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. The city council is also afraid the pavillion might attract Muslim extremists.
The artist wants to make clear thru his installation that there is no mosque in the historical center of Venice despite the fact the influence of Islam was great in Venice in the past. Luca Zaia, president of Veneto Region: "Installations should never transform into reality, the real issue about this mosque is not the freedom of religion, but respect of the rules of an international arthappening as the Venice Bienal".

At the Cannaregio church site of THE MOSQUE visitors will find the physical attributes of Muslim worship - the qibla wall, the mihrab, the minbar, and the large prayer carpet oriented in direction of Mecca – juxtaposed with the existing Catholic architecture of the Church of Santa Maria della Misericordia in a visual analog for the layering of history, religion, and culture that gives rise to both progress and conflict.

Historical facts

The City of Venice was the Mediterranean center of trade from the 13th century to the 15th century, when the Sultanate of the Ottoman Empire was establishing its presence. Complex religious and political issues dominated Venetian history, requiring the City to perform a cultural balancing act between East and West. The ongoing and diverse patterns of commercial and cultural interaction between Venice and the East rendered it the trading capital of the world for centuries – and the tourist attraction it is today. Evidence of Islamic influence is everywhere in Venice: The city’s unique and famous architecture is an amalgam of Occidental and Oriental styles. Venetian dialect is rich with Arabic words and inflections. The first mechanically printed Arabic Quran was published in Venice in 1537-38; the only remaining original resides in the city today.
THE MOSQUE draws attention to issues that connect Venice and Iceland and shape dialogue about their respective futures. Venetian problems such as the commodification of culture, complete saturation by tourists, and an ongoing depopulation of native Venetians that threatens to reduce the city to stasis, find parallels in Iceland via exponential increases in tourism, the commercialization and exploitation of nature, and low immigration rates.

THE MOSQUE: The First Mosque in the Historic City of Venice has been made possible by the Icelandic Ministry of Education, Science and Culture. Additional support for the project has been provided by Juan Carlos Verme and Joel Yoss, Hauser & Wirth, Ingunn Wernersdóttir, Promote Iceland, and Pro Helvetia.
About the Artist
Born in Basel, Switzerland in 1966, Christoph Büchel is recognized internationally for his conceptual projects and complex large-scale installations. Büchel often draws upon current events and politics, re-appropriating mass media sources and everyday life situations. His precise representations of reality seem to be more real than reality itself. Often the world he creates is fully functioning, and visitors forget that they are in an art installation, physically projected into other contexts and community settings that make up the contemporary world. These lifelike installations, which often also involve interaction and dialogue with specific communities, are often meticulous constructions that mirror the inner workings and hierarchies of advanced capitalist societies, contexts we pretend not to see or consciously refuse to acknowledge.
In Büchel’s work, complexity is found in the elaborate detail developed for each project. A hallmark of the artist’s work is layers of social and political commentary. Büchel locates contradictions and social inequities in the ideological forces dominating society today and finds a way, through his art, to demystify and resist these forces by revealing them as constructed realities subject to change.
Public Information 
Information about programs of THE MOSQUE is be available online at

Photo Courtesy Icelandic Pavilion, 56th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia

THE MOSQUE: The First Mosque in the Historic City of Venice
9 MAY – 22 NOVEMBER 2015
Santa Maria della Misericordia
Campo de l’Abazia
Cannagregio 3548/49 Venezia
Vaporetto Stops: Line 1 San Marcuola or Ca D’oro

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