A Cube, Like Mecca’s, Becomes a Pilgrim

By R. JAY MAGILL Jr. DATELINE: HAMBURG, Germany BODY: THE towering black cube at the center of the Great Mosque in Mecca, known as the Kaaba, now has a politically charged twin standing in front of Hamburg’s premier museum. This fabric-clad cube made its way here in an odyssey that began in Venice, detoured through Berlin and overcame, en route, fears of offending Europe’s Muslims. Pitch black and 46 feet tall, ”Cube Hamburg 2007,” by the German artist Gregor Schneider, is the first work one sees in the current exhibition at the Hamburger Kunsthalle, a show that honors the Russian artist Kasimir Malevich. Mr. Schneider’s slightly smaller Kaaba — though differing entirely in material, weight and function from the original — stands outside the museum, its imposing blackness a stark contrast to the square white building beside it. Mr. Schneider, who represented Germany at the 2001 Venice Biennale, had been commissioned to build his cube of aluminum scaffolding draped in black muslin for the 2005 Venice Biennale. But his plan to install it in St. Mark’s Square was rejected by city officials, who suggested it might offend or provoke Muslims. He was then invited to construct it at a contemporary art museum in Berlin, only to have the work there halted by a city museum official. But now his cube — whose evocation of the Kaaba held particular resonance in Venice because of the city’s historic connections to Islamic culture — has found a home here, wrapped into the exhibition, ”Homage to Malevich,” as a celebration of the artist’s 1915 painting ”Black Square.” ”My first trip to Russia was in 1971, and ever since I’ve been enamored with Malevich, with the idea of the black square as the quintessentially radical modern form,” said Hubertus Gassner, the Kunsthalle’s director and curator of the show, which continues through June 10. ”Cube Hamburg” is the most contemporary piece in his exhibition, which shows 45 works by Malevich (1878-1935) alongside variations of the square in paintings, drawings and architectural models by artists ranging from Lissitzky to Sigmar Polke to Donald Judd. Mr. Schneider, 38, is well known in Germany and on the international art scene for his sinister interior installations. His ”Dead House Ur” (1985-1997), a complex of 22 rooms and dead-end paths, won the Golden Lion award at the 2001 Venice Biennale. His current solo show in a Dusseldorf gallery — near his home in Rheydt — consists of isolation cells, sterile corridors and other institutional reminders of the United States Army’s prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It was his interest in shadowy and isolated spaces that led Mr. Schneider to begin making illustrations of the Kaaba, which translates from the Arabic simply as cube but according to Islamic tradition is the first sacred structure on earth. It is said to have been built by Adam, rebuilt by Abraham and Ishmael and reconstructed numerous times since. The actual Kaaba, which stands almost 50 feet high, is the goal of the Muslim pilgrimage known as the hajj. In Islam it is not forbidden to represent the Kaaba, and illustrations of the building and its internal structure are plentiful. Standing outside the Hamburg Kunsthalle on a recent afternoon Mr. Schneider spoke about the problems his cube had encountered at the 2005 Biennale: ”To this day I have received no official response as to why ‘Cube Venice’ was not permitted.” But he received an e-mail message from Davide Croff, the Biennale’s president, that described the rejection as ”of a political nature.” Alessandra Santerini, a spokeswoman for the Biennale, told the news agency Deutsche Welle at the time that the cube had been excluded for both aesthetic and security reasons. ”It would block the view of one part of the square,” she said, adding that ”it could hurt the religious emotions of the Muslim community.” The rejection at the Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin’s contemporary art museum housed in a former train station, came after Mr. Schneider had been invited to construct ”Cube Berlin 2006” by the museum’s director, Eugen Blume. The general director of the State Museums of Berlin, Peter-Klaus Schuster, halted the work, even though the catalog, with Mr. Blume’s essay, was already at the printer. The debates over the cube, and its eventual construction here, have been documented by Peter Schiering, a filmmaker for the German television channel ZDF. His film, which includes the planning, public discussions and interviews with officials in Berlin, was shown on March 24, the day after ”Homage to Malevich” opened. (Mr. Schneider himself, with the authors Eugene Blume and Amine Haase, documented the Venice Biennale events in an English-language book, ”Cubes: Art in the Age of Global Terrorism,” published in 2006 by Charta.) Mr. Schneider argues that the criticism of both the Venice and Berlin projects came from political officials, not from Muslims in those cities. ” ‘Cube Venice 2005’ was planned without cynicism and with a clear conscience,” he said. ”I could have looked every Muslim openly and honestly in the eye.” Germany is home to more than three million Muslims. Nadeem Elyas, the chairman of the country’s Central Council on Muslims, has said in public forums (and in the ”Cubes” book) that he thought Mr. Schneider’s project was undertaken with ”honor and dignity,” and that the decision to decline it was ”not conducive to dialogue between Muslims and Christians.” Mr. Schneider echoed this, saying, ”My hope is that this reduced cube might remind us of the cultural elements that we have in common.” Felix Kraemer is the project manager of ”Cube Hamburg 2007.” ”We had started to speak to leaders in the Muslim community about possible concerns — frank and sincere dialogue with the ‘potentially offended’ — when we thought it was going to be in Berlin and come here afterward,” he said. ”And everybody we spoke with — normal Hamburg Muslims and religious representatives — was fully supportive and didn’t see the big deal.” Ahmet Yazici and Ramazan Ucar of the Alliance for the Islamic Communities, at a public forum in February at the Kunsthalle, spoke of the cube’s installation here as a triumph for freedom of expression. Dyafad Mohaghighi concurred, speaking on behalf of the only ayatollah in Germany, Seyyed Abbas Ghaemmaghami, who heads the Persian-Shiite Islamic Center in Hamburg. ”Because the cube does remind Muslims of the Kaaba,” Mr. Mohaghighi said, ”is even more reason for us to respect the form — as an artwork or as religious monument. We hope that the public response is a respectful one too.” That it is Hamburg, which has large Turkish and Iranian populations, that finally welcomed Mr. Schneider’s project seems apt. Mohammed Khatami, the reformist president of Iran from 1997 to 2005, had earlier served as chairman of the Islamic Center here, during the Iranian revolution. Ayatollah Ghaemmaghami is the only German Muslim to have issued a fatwa on terrorism, in July 2005 after the London bombings. (Hamburg has also been home to less moderate Islamic men: Mohamed Atta, Said Bahaji and Ramzi bin al-Shibh — the Hamburg Cell at Marienstrasse 54 — helped carry out the attacks of Sept. 11.) ”I’m not an expert in contemporary art,” said Duane C. Butcher, the United States consul general in Hamburg, ”but the sincere dialogue the cube is creating between Germans and the Muslim community in Hamburg reminds us of how genuine discourse can succeed in cultural understanding.” So perhaps the impenetrable form, with its taut black fabric absorbing the light as onlookers wander around it, can also be interpreted as an attempt at reconciliation. The flyer for the ”Cube Hamburg 2007” project is a black cutout cube with flaps for assembly. In two dimensions the cube is a cross. ”Malevich himself wanted to build exactly this cube — for Lenin’s grave, actually,” said Mr. Gassner, the curator. ”And without a doubt he would be thrilled to see Schneider’s box standing out there.” URL: http://www.nytimes.com GRAPHIC: Photos: Top left, ”Cube Hamburg 2007,” an installation by the German artis
t Gregor Schneider, above, sits outside the Hamburger Kunsthalle. The work, inspired by the Kaaba in Mecca, left, which pilgrims circle during the hajj, was deemed unsuitable for the 2005 Venice Biennale and for a contemporary art museum in Berlin. (Photo by Roland Magunia/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images) (Photo by Suhaib Salem/Reuters) (Photo by Olaf Pascheit) LOAD-DATE: April 15, 2007

Mecca and Main Street

Islam is America’s fastest growing religion, with more than six million Muslims in the United States, all living in the shadow of 9/11. Who are our Muslim neighbors? What are their beliefs and desires? How are they coping with life under the War on Terror? Mecca and Main Street offers illuminating answers to these questions. Gaining unprecedented access to Muslim communities in America, Geneive Abdo traveled across the country, visiting schools, mosques, Islamic centers, radio stations, and homes. She brings these stories vividly to life, allowing us to hear their own voices and inviting us to understand their hopes and their fears. Inspiring, insightful, tough-minded, and even-handed, it will appeal to those curious (or fearful) about the Muslim presence in America. It will also be warmly welcomed by the Muslim community that it depicts.

Vingt Mille Musulmans De France S’apprêtent À Partir Pour Le Traditionnel Pèlerinage De La Mecque

By Xavier Ternisien Twenty thousand French Muslims plan to partake in the traditional pilgrimage to Mecca this year. CFCM is sending a delegation to Saudi Arabia to plan the details. {(article continues in French)} A 8 heures par e-mail, recevez la Check-list, votre quotidien du matin. Abonnez-vous au Monde.fr Le Conseil fran_ais du culte musulman (CFCM) a envoy_ une d_l_gation en Arabie saoudite pour aplanir les difficult_s : l’ann_e pass_e, nombre de d_parts avaient d_ _tre annul_s faute de visa. Les d_parts des musulmans de France pour le grand p_lerinage annuel _ La Mecque (Arabie saoudite) ont commenc_ le 24 d_cembre et devraient continuer d_but janvier. Le pic devrait avoir lieu cette semaine. Le temps fort, la f_te de l’A_d el-K_bir (ou A_d el-Adha), aura lieu le 21 janvier, mais de nombreux fid_les partent plus t_t, afin de visiter la ville de M_dine, lieu o_ le proph_te Mahomet est enterr_. En tout, plus de 20 000 p_lerins quittent chaque ann_e le sol fran_ais pour participer au grand p_lerinage, ou hadj. Lors de la derni_re _dition, les partants avaient rencontr_ de tr_s importantes difficult_s pour obtenir leurs visas. Le consulat saoudien ne les avait d_livr_s qu’au compte-gouttes. De nombreux voyageurs l’avaient eu trop tard et avaient _t_ oblig_s d’annuler leur d_part. La situation semble mieux ma_tris_e cette ann_e. “Un syst_me de ticket, qui donne _ chaque groupe un num_ro de passage, a _t_ mis en place, explique Haydar Demiryurek, secr_taire g_n_ral du Conseil fran_ais du culte musulman (CFCM). Ensuite, le d_lai d’attente est d’une semaine apr_s le d_p_t des passeports. Le consulat se montre tr_s compr_hensif.” Absence De R_gulation L’envoi d’une d_l_gation du CFCM en Arabie saoudite, du 28 novembre au 2 d_cembre, a permis d’aplanir un certain nombre de difficult_s. Quatre membres de la commission “p_lerinage” de l’instance repr_sentative du culte musulman ont _t_ re_us par le minist_re du hadj. La d_l_gation _tait conduite par Miloud Benamara, charg_ du p_lerinage _ la Mosqu_e de Paris. De l’avis g_n_ral, l’accueil a _t_ “tr_s chaleureux”. “Les Saoudiens sont tr_s demandeurs d’avoir un interlocuteur, constate M. Demiryurek, qui faisait partie de la d_l_gation. Ils sont confront_s _ des groupes venus de France sans _tre encadr_s par un accompagnateur, et qui sont parfois victimes d’organisateurs malhonn_tes.” Le march_ fran_ais du p_lerinage souffre d’une absence de r_gulation. Ce sont principalement les agences de voyages et quelques grandes associations musulmanes qui vendent les voyages et les s_jours sur place. Certains tirent les prix vers le bas, si bien que le p_lerin a la d_sagr_able surprise de trouver des conditions d’h_bergement d_plorables. Mehdi Berka, responsable de l’agence Meridianis Voyages _ Paris, _value _ 3 000 euros environ le co_t d’un p_lerinage accompli dans des conditions convenables. “La contrainte est de loger _ La Mecque trois millions de personnes dans un espace r_duit pendant le temps du hadj. Tout le monde souhaite loger au plus pr_s de la grande mosqu_e. Celle-ci est entour_e d’h_tels sur une p_riph_rie de plusieurs kilom_tres. La loi saoudienne pr_voit que chaque p_lerin doit b_n_ficier au minimum de 3 m2 d’espace dans son logement. En g_n_ral, les chambres comptent quatre lits. Mais certaines agences passent outre ces r_gles…” Les p_lerins ressortissants d’un Etat musulman sont regroup_s sous un “pavillon” qui d_fend leurs int_r_ts. Tel n’est pas le cas des p_lerins venus de France. Cependant, depuis 2000, le consulat de France _ Djedda ouvre une “antenne consulaire” _ La Mecque pendant toute la dur_e du p_lerinage. De mani_re concr_te, deux fonctionnaires de confession musulmane (la Ville sainte est interdite aux non-musulmans) sont pr_sents dans un grand h_tel. Mais les autorit_s consulaires fran_aises font valoir que les agents de l’Etat ont pour seule fonction de r_soudre les probl_mes de nature administrative, tels que la perte de documents ou le d_c_s d’un ressortissant fran_ais. Ils ne peuvent pas d_fendre les int_r_ts des voyageurs victimes d’un aigrefin. Le CFCM voudrait aller plus loin et _tablir une v_ritable “mission du p_lerinage”, comme cela existe pour d’autres pays. “Au Maroc comme en France, ce sont des agences priv_es qui proposent le p_lerinage, t_moigne M. Berka. Mais l’Etat marocain envoie des d_l_gu_s pour v_rifier que la prestation offerte est bien assur_e. Malheureusement, un tel pouvoir coercitif n’est pas envisageable dans le cas fran_ais. Si bien que les agences font ce qu’elles veulent.” 10 Euros Par P_lerin Le CFCM envisage donc de proposer aux organisateurs qui le souhaitent de verser une taxe de 10 euros par p_lerin. Celle-ci servirait _ financer un service d’accueil des p_lerins fran_ais _ La Mecque, plac_ sous la responsabilit_ du CFCM. En _change, les agences de voyages se verraient d_cerner par l’organe repr_sentatif du culte musulman une sorte de label de qualit_. Le p_lerin serait rassur_ sur la prestation offerte. Ce projet n’a pas encore re_u l’aval du bureau du CFCM. Chaque pays musulman est soumis, par les autorit_s saoudiennes, _ un quota d’un millier de p_lerins pour un million de musulmans. La Tunisie, qui compte 9 millions d’habitants, a pu envoyer cette ann_e 9 000 participants au hadj et la Turquie 7 000 pour 70 millions d’habitants. Avec 20 000 p_lerins, pour une population musulmane _valu_e entre 4 et 5 millions de personnes, les musulmans de France b_n_ficient de l’absence de toute r_gulation.