Expo 2020 Dubai: The power of the message


Expo 2020 Dubai: The power of the message

Expo 2020 Dubai: The power of the message
What a future civilization will make of us has yet to be written. Expo 2020 points the way.
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I can still remember where I was when I heard that London had been awarded the 2012 Olympic Games. I felt a rush of child-like excitement for an event that had been so familiar from television and newspapers as I grew up, yet so remote to someone who had only watched from afar without the chance to be part of it. I was proud to belong to a nation that had the ambition and aspiration to want to bring the world to our shores. And then, when it happened, as Britain came together to display its diverse, 21st-century face and we welcomed all, the rush it gave us can be felt to this day.

The UK knows what it is like to have a great international event and, as Expo 2020 lifts off, we send to Dubai the heartfelt good wishes of all of us here for its success. It could not come at a more important time to raise the spirits of the globe. We thought 2012, on the back of the financial crash of a few years earlier, had been bad enough, but that was nothing like what we have all experienced in recent times.

The warmth, therefore, for Expo — and for International Cooperation Minister Reem Al-Hashimi, director general of Dubai World Expo 2020, and her team, who have persevered through everything to bring it to us — is very real, as can be seen from the 192 states exhibiting in Dubai. We are set for something special.

I am also proud that the UK was an early, and public, supporter of the Dubai bid. As minister for the Middle East at the time, I recall discussing with then-Foreign Secretary William Hague that we should be quick with our decision to name Dubai as the UK’s choice, and we were. To see what has become of it, and to anticipate the next few months, is exciting indeed.

The UK has continued to build on successive bold designs and ideas at such international gatherings with its Expo pavilion. With the theme of “Innovation for a Shared Future,” the UK complements the overarching themes of Expo with a unique creative experience. The designer, Es Devlin, brings together the contemporary technology of artificial intelligence with the ageless, timeless and universal art of poetry. Words donated by visitors are ceaselessly combined by an algorithm, which then form the LED-illuminated 20-meter facade of the stunning pavilion.

The designer says there is no exhibit within the pavilion and that the pavilion itself is the exhibit. Devlin adds that she hopes it displays “a sense of Britain as a place that is open, welcoming, questioning, uncertain, contradictory, inconsistent, fallible, sometimes nonsensical, majestic, comical, beautiful and accessible to all.”

That “open and welcoming” nature seems to me to also be well represented by her choice of materials, which are not only sustainable but also drawn from a variety of the UK’s European neighbors, as well as others further afield, reflecting the “shared future” our theme addresses. The UK is an island geographically, but what connects it with the world is more important than that which separates it.

The Middle East has connected humanity for centuries, but this Expo represents the confidence of a region recognizing that, more than ever, its future is in its own hands.

Alistair Burt

The UK pavilion is inspired by one of the last projects by renowned physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking: What message would we give as a planet should we encounter an advanced civilization from elsewhere? Whatever else may be going on at the pavilion during Expo — and it will be well used and a focus for UK activity of all kinds — that deeper search for who we are and what we say we are will envelop and intrigue all who enter it.

I think it fits well with the overall theme of Expo 2020, “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future.” That message is at once symbolic of the state and region where Expo takes place, but is also a defiant one; denying those who would close down the theme’s element. The Middle East has connected humanity for centuries, but this Expo represents the confidence of a region recognizing that, more than ever, its future is in its own hands and its ability to connect with modern technology and share global efforts to find solutions to our immense contemporary challenges has never been greater.

Expo makes a clear statement that Hawking’s message from the planet will only be good if we progress to the future through these mutual connections. It thus calls out defiantly to those, wherever they may be throughout the globe, who would deliberately choose to darken our future through conflict, the separation of minds, and deny our children the tools they will need to correct our mistakes and repair the globe. It tells them that they will not succeed.

What a future civilization will make of us has yet to be written. Expo 2020 points the way. It will be up to us to choose what we make of it, but I doubt any who connect with it will be unchanged or uninspired.

• Alistair Burt is a former UK Member of Parliament who has twice held ministerial positions in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office — as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State from 2010 to 2013 and as Minister of State for the Middle East from 2017 to 2019.

Twitter: @AlistairBurtUK

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point of view