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Iceland Biennale Mosque Threatened with Closure

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Iceland Biennale Mosque Threatened with Closure

Reykjavík mosque

Photo: Páll Stefánsson.

The art installation called The Mosque, by Christoph Büchel, which is a lifelike replica of the inside of a mosque currently open in an old Venetian church as Iceland’s entry to the Venice Biennale, is still causing controversy and could be shut down within a week.

After word-of-mouth permission to open last weekend, the formal licenses may not be as forthcoming as had been hoped for.

While the 10th century church has been deconsecrated for 45 years and is in private ownership, the Catholic Church claims it still needs to be consulted on any significant change of use and looks unlikely to consent to a church being converted to an active mosque, The Telegraph reported.

The city council has indicated it will close the exhibition down by May 20 if the correct licenses cannot be obtained.

Venice has historically strong ties to the East and a sizeable Muslim population, but authorities have never authorized a mosque; although a Muslim prayer room was opened as early as 1621.

Supporters of Büchel assert that the mosque is only a piece of art, not a real mosque, and will be permanently removed at the end of the Biennale in November anyway—while at the same time being realistic enough as a mosque to stimulate discussion, understanding and a sense of belonging to Venice’s thousands-strong Muslim community.

“[It is a] mistaken initiative which was done without taking into account people's feelings in Venice,” Luigi Brugnaro, a businessman and possible next mayor of the city, told reporters.

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