How Expo 2020 Dubai is helping us answer the question of identity

How Expo 2020 Dubai is helping us answer the question of identity
The Al Wasl Plaza at Expo 2020 Dubai. Instagram
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Updated 16 October 2021

How Expo 2020 Dubai is helping us answer the question of identity

How Expo 2020 Dubai is helping us answer the question of identity

Sheikha Alyazia Bint Nahyan Al-Nahyan is an ambassador for Culture for ALECSO.

DUBAI: When we talk about sustainability, we must reference culture because identity and sustainability both depend on accumulative communal practices. The pavilions at Expo 2020 Dubai express these links and values.

Many types of green innovations are featured at Expo 2020, with innovations on show that aim to solve global energy problems — such as the portable U-light — and examples of international corporations that are working to be more sustainable — L’Oréal’s perfume refill system for example. One of the more technologically advanced is Source, which makes clean water from air and sunlight by way of their innovative hydro panels.

The Morocco pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai. Instagram

The idea of sustaining identity and culture is exactly why, for the first time, the 192 participating countries at Expo 2020 Dubai all have separate spaces to freely showcase these concepts in their own way and why Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum promised that this would be the best expo held in 170 years. The pavilions of Poland and Morocco are two of the many countries that look to tradition for developing the future. Poland’s use of wood and timber in the design is extremely alluring, similar to Morocco’s use of earthen methods, the sandy exterior honors nature, as does Azerbaijan’s leaf design and Oman’s frankincense tree. Italy’s pavilion, co-designed by Carlo Ratti, is a Renaissance factory that connects with visitors through its beauty. Carmen Bueno, the deputy commissioner and director of the Spanish pavilion, explains other connections through the evolution of chess and common architectural heritage between the Arabs and Spanish in Andalusia. The passage of time also helps to forge knowledge-based connections, which is the focus of the Yemeni pavilion with its modern take on the miraculous book of ‘Al Wisabi’, written in the form of an Arabic algorithmic poem. The question is not how we view the future, it is how we view ourselves and others in it.  

Recently Dr. Mohammed Ould Amar, director-general of the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO), presented me with the honor of a cultural ambassadorship. Their main aspiration is to enhance our Arab culture regionally and internationally. The sense of “ourselves” is a generational idea originating in set traditions over time. In Arabic, we say “bearers of a habit are unable to drop their habits” — cultural continuity, just like sustainability, is a natural way to progress individually and collectively. The calligraphy benches scattered around at Expo 2020 honor the Arabic language and calligraphy as an age-old tradition, inviting family-sized groups of loved ones to take in the splendor of their surroundings.

Al Wasl Plaza. Supplied

Al Wasl Plaza is the grand feature of the Expo 2020 site. Al Wasl means “the link,” a link between all people and ideas.

“The theater (Al Wasl Plaza) is going to be a permanent monument for residents and locals alike, to look back to as a proud memory,” said Nahla Al-Fahad, the woman behind the popular “wain sayreen” Expo 2020 commercial. The film director added: “Al Wasl Plaza will present lots of Arabic poetry in various shows. It is also a park, and the materials used on top give perfect shade, successfully reducing indoor temperatures by up to three degrees.”

An illuminating dome that emulates the Bronze Age ring found in the Saruq Al-Hadid archaeological site in Dubai, with its round shape and twenty orbiting spheres, symbolizes the event as if the countries are planets revolving around the center of this spectacle of dialogue.

Al Wasl Plaza. Instagram

Dunes are another splendid feature of Expo 2020 that creep into the design of various pavilions — a coffee scented trail in Italy’s pavilion, a red uphill entrance to the Swiss pavilion, the color of which will keep changing during the coming months. Then there is the steep, breathtaking ascent into Saudi Arabia’s rich heritage and renewed spirit, inaugurated by the Vice Chairman of the Supervisory Committee for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Pavilion Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri. The UAE’s pavilion, “A Story About the UAE’s Dream,” which Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan shared on Twitter, displayed actual audio and visual depictions of dunes. A few expressions of the desert theme are representative of social participation and similar views.

A good feature of identity does not require explanation, just like an obvious joke. Take this one for example — it is old but amusing — what is the English translation of Insh’Allah? It is improbable, un-seemingly or no. 


The UAE pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai. Supplied


Views of ourselves or others are developed by way of interaction. While we were watching the opening ceremony my mother, Sheikha Fakhra Bint Saeed, turned our attention to the young star in a pink and golden Khaleeji gown, delightfully performed by model Mira Singh. Her movements on the stage, mixing one by one with the various groups and emphasizing cooperation as a universal value, neither dissolved the uniqueness of any of the groups nor erased the girl’s representation of Arabia’s past and present.

From melodious musical shows to dances performed by troupes from multiple regions, and national day parades to the entertaining Eastern melodies by Al-Jahra Arts at the entrance of Kuwait’s pavilion, Expo 2020 Dubai has much to offer.

Another host of shows will take place in the Jubilee Park, where the Kapa Haka dancers from New Zealand, with their big smiles and decorative chin tattoos, will represent an old Maori spiritual tradition marking passages of life and a commitment to their ancestral identities. In the deserts of the Arab world, different and comparable to the Maoris during the early 20th century, simple tattoos were a beauty trait for the Bedouins — an example of age-old ideas springing from diverse mindsets. Nowadays meanings differ and methods change in the ways we all honor our past and still fulfill our futures. Societies depend on understanding our “we-dentities,” in turn, development is dependent on us valuing our cultural bonds and diversity.