NEW YORK - The police in Venice Friday closed an art installation in the form of a functioning mosque inside an ex-Catholic church, set up as Iceland’s exhibit for the 56th Venice Biennale contemporary art fair , according to US media reports.
City officials declared the art project a ‘security hazard’ and said that the Swiss-Icelandic artist who created it, Christoph Buchel, had not obtained proper permits and had violated city laws by allowing too many people inside, The New York Times said in a dispatch from. Responding to the notification of closure, a local imam reportedly commented: ‘It is like throwing a match on a pile of hay,’ according to a dispatch in NEWSWEEK, a mass-circulation American weekly magazine.
The project was intended in part to highlight the absence of a mosque in the historic heart of Venice , a city whose art and architecture were deeply influenced by Islamic trade and culture, Times Correspondent Randy Kennedy wrote. But even before the installation , called ‘The Mosque ,’ opened for its first Friday Prayers 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.
Since the opening, the report said, hundreds of Muslim residents of Venice and surrounding areas have visited to see or worship at the mosque , without incident. But in a flurry of letters, city officials also asserted that special legal permission was needed within Venice to create a place of worship, and they rejected claims by Buchel and Icelandic art officials that the mosque was simply a work of art functioning as a place of worship.
It was pointed out that officials of the Venice Biennale and this year’s chief curator, Okwui Enwezor, have kept their distance from the project, issuing no public statements of support for it as it became clear that the city was intent on closing it.
During the opening ceremony, Tehmina Janjua, Pakistan’s ambassador to Italy, publicly thanked  Buchel and the project’s curator, Nina Magnusdottir, for ‘a place of worship, a place of art , a place where communities can come together and talk, can dialogue with each other’, according to the Times. The Icelandic Art Center, which commissioned the installation , said in a statement that it believed the aims of the mosque had been realized, in a sense, even if the installation was not allowed to remain open, as originally planned, over the course of the Biennale through November. ‘Christoph Büchel’s work ‘The Mosque’ is intended to shed light on institutionalized segregation and prejudices in society, including the conflicts that arise due to policies regarding immigration, which are pivotal in national and religious disputes all over the world,’ the statement said. ‘It is fair to say that this goal has been achieved.’