Woman wearing veil told to leave Italian museum

The head of Venice’s Ca’ Rezzonico museum in Venice apologized to a Muslim woman who was asked to leave the building by a guard, because she was wearing a veil over her face. “I’m sorry for what happened and if she ever wants to return to our museum, she will be more than welcome,” said director Filippo Pedrocco. The unnamed woman was visiting the museum with her husband and children, and had successfully cleared security upon entering the building. However, a guard on the second floor told her that she must remove her face veiling, or niqab. The woman refused to take off the veil, and left the art museum. Italian media reported that the guard was a part-time worker and had been employed by an outside security firm, and would be disciplined for his actions and risked being fired.

Denmark: Denmark: Royal Library will not display Mohammed cartoons

Denmark’s national library will house the cartoon images of the prophet Muhammad that provoked violent riots throughout the Islamic world two years ago. The Royal Library has declared the drawings to be of historic value, and is trying to acquire them for preservation purposes. It has agreed to take possession of the caricatures on behalf of the museum of Danish cartoon art, and negotiations with the artists of the 12 cartoons are said to be at an advanced stage. We are not interested in an exhibition, we are interested in them being kept safe for future generations because they have created history in Denmark said Jytte Kjaergaard, a spokeswoman for the library.

France gets new immigration museum as DNA row rages

A new museum in Paris opened this week, celebrating the role of immigration in French history. Hailed by some as France’s “Ellis Island,” the museum opens amidst a controversial proposal by President Nicolas Sarkozy to introduce DNA tests for those seeking immigration to join relatives in France.

Switzerland: Swiss reject plans for Major Islamic Center in Capital

Islamic groups said they were disappointed Saturday that plans to build one of the biggest Muslim cultural centers in Europe were rejected by Swiss planners in Bern. The center, to include a mosque, a museum, offices and a four-star hotel, had been proposed by a Bern-based Islamic coordination group, Umma, for the site of a former abattoir at a cost of up to 80 million Swiss francs (65 million dollars). The authorities said they had earmarked the site for a uses other than religious and saw no other suitable location for the project in Bern, according to the Swiss wire service ATS. Umma said in a statement they noted the decision with “regret.” The move comes in the midst of a row over minarets in Switzerland where 350,000 Muslims have settled. A campaign, spearheaded by right-wing politicians, has been launched to try to ban further construction of the towers at mosques claiming they are a political rather than religious symbol and breach Swiss laws. Only two mosques in Zurich and Geneva have a minaret.

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

Chirac Pays Homage To Muslim War Veterans

President Jacques Chirac paid homage Sunday to the hundreds of thousands of Muslim soldiers from former colonies who fought for France in World War I, unveiling a memorial on the site of the battle of Verdun. “The Verdun army was the army of the people, and all the people took part,” Chirac said, inaugurating a white-walled Moorish-style monument. “It was France in all its diversity.” The commemoration has come at a time of turbulence in France’s relations with its ethnic minorities. A senior Muslim leader said he hoped the belated recognition of his community’s war dead would help ease the tensions. Chirac himself looked back almost with nostalgia at the way France rallied in 1916 to fight the Germans. “This ceremony reminds us how in that moment of history, at Verdun and for Verdun, the French nation knew how to unite,” he said after laying a wreath at the monument. Separate memorials already stand for the Christians and Jews who died in the mud and misery of the trenches, but up until Sunday the Muslims only had a small plaque dedicated to them. France mobilized close to 600,000 colonial subjects in World War I, including many from Muslim territories like Algeria and Tunisia, and 78,000 were killed. Total French dead numbered 1.2 million. Some of France’s former colonies have complained that France has been ungrateful to its colonial troops, arguing that without their efforts, Paris would have fallen to the Germans. Dalil Boubakeur, head of the French Muslim Council, told reporters he hoped the new memorial would help close old wounds. He said he hoped it would provide “an impulse for the future for a closer integration of all of France’s Muslim communities,” adding that they are “completely French communities, thanks in no small part to the blood they have shed.” A wave of rioting in mainly poor, immigrant suburbs rocked France last autumn, laying bare the difficulties the country faces in integrating its multi- ethnic society. The government has responded with a mix of tough immigration laws and increased efforts to recognize minority groups. In May, France marked its first annual commemoration day for victims of the slave trade and last week Chirac opened a major new museum celebrating ethnic art from around the world. Verdun, where more than 300,000 troops died, lends itself to the task of reconciliation and was the setting for a memorable gesture of friendship between France and Germany, which fought three disastrous wars in less than a century. President Fran_ois Mitterrand of France and Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany stood together in Verdun in 1984 to display the new ties between their two countries.