In this photo taken in Venice, Italy, on May 9, 2019 and made available May 23, 2019, a man, supposedly renowned British artist Banksy, sits behind a newspaper, after setting up his stall in St Mark square. (MARA GUGLIELMI / ANSA / AP)
ROME — Famed street artist Banksy set up an impromptu outdoor exhibit during Venice Art Biennale characterizing Italy's iconic canal city as little more than the setting for the oversized cruise ships that dominate the Venice lagoon when they pass through.
The exhibit, which Banksy entitled Venice in Oil, was a collection of nine paintings that together showed the image of a giant cruise ship
The exhibit, which Banksy entitled Venice in Oil, was a collection of nine paintings that together showed the image of a giant cruise ship. Only on second glance is it clear that landmarks of Venice -- including the Rialto Bridge, the Church of the Redentore, and a few gondolas -- appear in the paintings, dwarfed by the ship.
A video of the brief exhibit, including police shutting it down for a lack of a permit and a hooded figure pushing it away as a cruise ship sails by in the distance, went viral on social media. It was front-page news in Venice newspapers, where it cast a new light on a high-profile problem.
"Everyone who lives in Venice sees these ships as an abomination," Andreina Zitelli, a professor at IUAV University in Venice and an activist with the Committee Against the Big Ships, told Xinhua. "But the cruise companies are powerful and at least until now they have been able to get what they want."
According to Giuseppe Tattara, an economist with Ca'Foscari University in Venice, the ships -- the largest can weigh up to 190,000 tons -- increase the risk of accidents with smaller vessels that frequent the Venice lagoon and can threaten the fragile environmental health of the lagoon.
Tattara said locals also complain that the ships are an eyesore compared to the city's famous Byzantine and Gothic architecture.
"The cruise ships want to come to Venice through the city's lagoon so that all the passengers can enjoy the spectacular view," Tattara said in an interview. "But the people who live in Venice don't want the ships for the same reason. They ruin the same spectacular view."
Shopkeepers in Venice also worry that fewer cruise ships would result in fewer tourists and a drop in business.
There have been various attempts to force cruise ships to take a different route. In 2015, there was a short-lived ban on ships above 96,000 tons and a limit on the number of ships between 40,000 and 96,000 tons. Zitelli said that two years ago a rule was passed to require the biggest ships to go around the back of Venice and dock on the Venice Lido, a larger set of islands separated from the cluster of islands that make up the heart of Venice. Tattara said other routes that would avoid the Venice Lagoon while still allowing the ships to dock in the Port of Venice has been floated.
"Lawmakers slow the process down because of pressure from the cruise companies and in the end nothing gets done," Zitelli said.
Tattara agreed. "The problem we have is not a lack of alternatives," he said. "The problem is that everyone wants to come through the heart of Venice and there isn't room for everyone to do that without causing problems."
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