Icelandic Pavilion scraps legal appeal to have ‘The Mosque’ reopened

The Icelandic Art Center (IAC) has abandoned its legal appeal to have Christopher Buchel’s The Mosque reopened after Venetian authorities closed it down in May.

The Icelandic Pavilion caused a stir when it was launched at the 56th Venice Biennale in May, with the creators transforming a former Catholic church into a non-functioning mosque.

However, within two weeks of its unveiling at this year’s Venice Biennale, Christopher Buchel’s the mosque was shut down by the city’s authorities, who cited health and safety reasons. In the time it was open, an estimated 20,000 Muslims used it as a place of worship – it was Venice’s only mosque.

But the IAC’s pavilion commissioners have now abandoned their legal appeal to the Venice’s Regional Administrative Court after the court’s decision on 31 July to reject a fast-track request that would have enabled the mosque to reopen before the Biennale came to a close in November. The commission has said that it will look for further alternatives that could ensure The Mosque project could still be viewed by the public.

The IAC published an earlier statement on its website explaining why it initially appealed the decision to close the mosque, while also criticising the Biennale for its lack of support after authorities shut it down on 22 May.

The statement alleged that after seeing police files, the Venetian Municipality and police suspected that the pavilion could act as a front for organised Islamic activities and prayer, and had asked the Office of the Biennale to confirm that the mosque was actually a work of art – a request that the Biennale did not respond to.