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European Art Show Focuses on Muslim World

'As loose as anything.' Performance by Ryan Gander during the opening of Manifesta 8. Curated by ACAF for Manifesta 8. Copyright: © Ilya Rabinovich

One of Europe's most unusual art events is Manifesta, a visual arts show that takes place every two years in a different location on the continent. This year the roving biennial is being held in the southern Spain city of Murcia in an effort to engage the region's blend of Islamic, Judaic and Christian cultural influences. The Murcia exhibit, the eighth of its kind, features some 150 artworks, installations and performances.

American beatboxer Kenny Muhammad translates "Prayers for Art" into his unique hip-hop sound. Adam Carrigan filmed Kenny's performance in New York and transformed it into a statement on art in Murcia's abandoned Post Office, one of the 15 venues in the vast Manifesta art event.

Stephan Dillemuth. "El árduo camino hacia el conocimiento." 2010. Installation. Curated by Commissioned and produced by Manifesta 8. Copyright: © Ilya Rabinovich
Stephan Dillemuth. "El árduo camino hacia el conocimiento." 2010. Installation. Curated by Commissioned and produced by Manifesta 8. Copyright: © Ilya Rabinovich

Most of the works are performance pieces or installations. They are often provocative and focus on the cross-cultural concerns of the region of Murcia.

The first Manifesta exhibition was held in Rotterdam in 1996 and subsequent events have often focused on the axis between the West and the former East bloc.

Manifesta founding director Hedwig Fijen says Manifesta 8 aims to engage the north-south divide.

"What does this subtitle "Dialogue with Northern Africa mean for us? The political situation in Europe is changing. I think we also forgot in European history what were times when there was a co-existencia, when there was no Islamic phobia and it seems that these times have been rewritten. Artists do investigate how these political problems have an effect on daily life of people. Through the mirror, through the eyes of artists we try to give a different perception," said Fijen.

American artist Michael Takeo Magruder focuses on the coordinated terrorist attacks in Spain that killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,800 on March 11, 2004. He created a multi-media presentation in neighboring Cartegena's MURAM Museum.

"With events like this - September 11th and that is an important departure point because from that time on many countries experienced related terrorism and brings up related issues. In our society, politics uses these events for their own political means, the propaganda, to sway the country, to get re-elected, to solidify their power. The media often uses these events in questionably ethical ways, using the tragic spectacle to boost their ratings. What can we as artists, perhaps to provide another space, an alternative space," said Magruder.

"Suspension of Violence" is the name of Boris Charmatz's dance installation of 24 dancers. The French choreographer's dancers go through a series of gestures, in which violence is abstracted. They then leave slowly, until only one dancer is left.

Friendship and female solidarity underlies Morroccan dancer and choreographer Bouchra Ouizguen's performance called "Madame Plaza." Four Moroccan women perform to the wailing sounds of Aïta - a wordless musical form taken from traditional Moroccan folklore.

Manifesta continues until January 9 in Murcia. None of the venues charge admission and everyone can enjoy this feast of art and its complex symbolism. According to Manifesta organizers, all of the exhibit’s offerings are intended to send a positive message of co-existence and understanding as the artists respond to contemporary issues.