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Koran art exhibit pulled in France after near riot

A Moroccan artist on Wednesday suspended his exhibit in a French arts festival after his projection of Koranic verses onto a bridge almost sparked a riot when people trod on them.

Koran art exhibit pulled in France after near riot
Photo: Flickr user RVWithTito

Mounir Fatmi said he was putting his work on hold until the exhibit could be shown properly — without the chance of people walking on the verses — at the "Printemps de Septembre" art festival in the southwestern city of Toulouse.

The exhibit was only meant to be shown at the weekend, with measures taken to ensure no one could set their feet on the ground as the verses from the Muslim holy book and other images were projected there.

But on Tuesday evening, with no preventative measures in place, the video was projected onto the busy bridge and quickly attracted the attention of locals who gathered to try and stop people walking over the verses.

Tensions rose when the demonstrators called in young people from the city's housing projects to help them, and erected barriers to keep pedestrians away.

One young woman was slapped for putting her foot on a verse.

Police sent in a riot squad but the situation was peacefully resolved — and the demonstrators dispersed — after an imam appeared on the scene and called for calm.

Relations between the French state and a Muslim community that has its roots in former colonies Algeria and Morocco have been strained in recent years by a string of controversies pitting their faith against France's secular tradition.

Tensions were heightened last month after a French satirical weekly published cartoons of a naked Prophet Muhammad.

Artist Fatmi denied he had sought to provoke with the art work and said Tuesday's incident was the result of a misunderstanding.

"(As) the right conditions for displaying my work were not in place, and this damages… its ability to be understood, I prefer to suspend it," he said.

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ARCHITECTURE

Futuristic Gehry tower opens in World Heritage Arles

Rising high beyond an ancient Roman arena in Arles, a tall, twisted tower created by Frank Gehry shimmers in the sun, the latest futuristic addition to this southern French city known for its World Heritage sites.

Futuristic Gehry tower opens in World Heritage Arles
Gehry's Luma Tower opens in Arles, France. Photo: H I / Pixabay

The tower, which opens to the public on Saturday, is the flagship attraction of a new “creative campus” conceived by the Swiss Luma arts foundation that wants to offer artists a space to create, collaborate and showcase their work.

Gehry, the 92-year-old brain behind Bilbao’s Guggenheim museum and Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Concert Hall, wrapped 11,000 stainless steel panels around his tower above a huge glass round base.

It will house contemporary art exhibitions, a library, and offices, while the Luma Arles campus as a whole will host conferences and live performances.

From a distance, the structure reflects the changing lights of this town that inspired Van Gogh, capturing the whiteness of the limestone Alpilles mountain range nearby which glows a fierce orange when the sun sets.

Mustapha Bouhayati, the head of Luma Arles, says the town is no stranger to
imposing monuments; its ancient Roman arena and theatre have long drawn the
crowds.

The tower is just the latest addition, he says. “We’re building the heritage of tomorrow.”

Luma Arles spreads out over a huge former industrial wasteland.

Maja Hoffmann, a Swiss patron of the arts who created the foundation, says
the site took seven years to build and many more years to conceive.

Maja Hoffmann, founder and president of the Luma Foundation. Photo: Pascal GUYOT / AFP

Aside from the tower, Luma Arles also has exhibition and performance spaces in former industrial buildings, a phosphorescent skatepark created by South Korean artist Koo Jeong A and a sprawling public park conceived by Belgian landscape architect Bas Smets.

‘Arles chose me’

The wealthy great-granddaughter of a founder of Swiss drug giant Roche, Hoffmann has for years been involved in the world of contemporary art, like her grandmother before her.

A documentary producer and arts collector, she owns photos by Annie Leibovitz and Diane Arbus and says she hung out with Jean-Michel Basquiat in New York.

Her foundation’s stated aim is to promote artists and their work, with a special interest in environmental issues, human rights, education and culture.

She refuses to answer a question on how much the project in Arles cost. But as to why she chose the 53,000-strong town, Hoffmann responds: “I did not choose Arles, Arles chose me.”

She moved there as a baby when her father Luc Hoffmann, who co-founded WWF,
created a reserve to preserve the biodiversity of the Camargue, a region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Rhone river delta known for its pink flamingos.

The tower reflects that, with Camargue salt used as mural panels and the
delta’s algae as textile dye.

Hoffmann says she wants her project to attract more visitors in the winter, in a town where nearly a quarter of the population lives under the poverty line.

Some 190 people will be working at the Luma project over the summer, Bouhayati says, adding that Hoffman has created an “ecosystem for creation”.

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