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Swiss artist collaborates with Icelandic and Venetian Muslims to create first ever mosque in Venice, opening at the 56th Biennale di Venezia

The Icelandic Art Centre, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture of Iceland, is to create ‘The Mosque: The First Mosque in the Historic City of Venice’ as its national pavilion at the 56th international Art Exhibition – La Biennale de Venezia.

Initiated by Swiss-born artist, Christoph Büchel in collaboration with the Muslim communities of Venice and Iceland and curated by Nina Magnúsdóttir, The Mosque will welcome the many thousands of Muslims resident in Venice. Its door will also be open to Muslim and non-Muslim tourists visiting the city.

The Mosque is to be installed in the historic church of Santa Maria della Misericordia in the Cannagregio sestier of Venice. This structure dates to the 10th century and although it was restored in 1864, it has been closed for over 40 years. Now, for the full seven months of the Biennale – 9 May to 22 November 2015 – The Mosque will serve as a place of activity for the Venice Muslim community and will offer an ongoing schedule of educational and cultural events open to the general public.

A statement issued by the Icelandic Art Centre explains: “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 analogue for the layering of history, religion, and culture that gives rise to both progress and conflict.”

Sverrir Agnarsson, President of the Muslim Community of Iceland adds: “We are proud to support The Mosque, Iceland's contribution to the Biennale. It is particularly fitting that this project coincides with the campaign to construct the first mosque in Reykjavik. In the past, prejudice and political pressures in both Iceland and Italy made it impossible to imagine mosques in either place. But today, just as the Icelandic initiative in Venice takes shape, the Muslim Community of Iceland is conducting a design competition among some of Europe's foremost architects and moving forward with creation of the first mosque in the northernmost capital of the world.”

Information about the public programme of events at The Mosque will be available online at www.mosque.is from 8 May 2015.

Gail Taylor

Features Editor

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