The church of Santa Maria della Misericordia in the Cannaregio neighborhood of Venice.Credit Icelandic Pavilion, 56th Venice Biennale
The Swiss artist Christoph Büchel, who has become known for politically provocative pieces that address war, immigration and poverty, announced on Thursday that he plans to temporarily turn a former Venetian Catholic church into a functioning mosque – or at least an art installation that calls itself a mosque – as part of the Venice Biennale, which begins next week.
“The Mosque: The First Mosque in the Historic City of Venice,” as the project is titled, will serve as the official pavilion for Iceland, where Mr. Büchel has lived for many years. The mosque installation, created in collaboration with several groups of Islamic Venetians as well as Islamic leaders in Iceland, is intended to highlight the fact that, unlike most prominent cities in Italy, Venice – whose architecture and art have been shaped over centuries by Islamic commerce and culture – has never had a mosque in its historic heart. (The nearest large Islamic cultural center, where hundreds of Muslims go weekly for prayer, is on the mainland, in Marghera; the greater Venice area, with a population of 270,000, is believed to have a Muslim population of between 15,000 and 20,000 residents.)
In a statement, Mr. Büchel and the project’s curator, Nina Magnúsdóttir, noted that “creation of mosques is a source of contention today in locations around the globe,” and that the installation was intended to draw attention “to the political institutionalization of segregation and prejudice, and to settlement policies that lie at the heart of global ethnic and religious conflicts today.”
The installation, which will open to visitors on May 9, will be created inside the church of Santa Maria della Misericordia in the Cannaregio neighborhood of Venice, a structure that dates to the 10th century and was restored in 1864, but that has not functioned as a church for more than 40 years and is now privately owned. “The Mosque” will remain open during the seven months of the Biennale, to serve “as a place of activity for the Venice Muslim community,” Mr. Büchel said, “and to offer an ongoing schedule of educational and cultural programs available to the general public.”
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