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.