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.

Review: Final episodes of ‘Money Heist’ are emotional and action-packed

The final episodes of ‘Money Heist’are now streaming on Netflix. (Supplied)
The final episodes of ‘Money Heist’are now streaming on Netflix. (Supplied)
Updated 04 December 2021

Review: Final episodes of ‘Money Heist’ are emotional and action-packed

The final episodes of ‘Money Heist’are now streaming on Netflix. (Supplied)

CHENNAI: A runaway hit, the last five episodes of Spanish series “Money Heist,” created by Alex Pina, were just released on Netflix to international fanfare.

Readers be warned, this review contains spoilers for the first part of season five, which was released three months ago.

Audiences were left on a cliff hanger, with the shocking death of Tokyo (Ursula Corbero) and the emotional run continues in the second part of the season, with the Professor (played by Alvaro Morte) displaying heightened sadness, triumph and nerves in the final episode.

With Tokyo’s death, the Professor is shattered and loses his grip on the situation, which opens him up to risks from all angles. Of particular interest is the developing relationship between detective Alicia Sierra (Najwa Nimri) and the Professor, all with Sierra’s newborn baby in tow. Featuring a newborn innocent in the heady mix of precarious action ups the ante and introduces a heightened level of risk for audiences who will no doubt watch with bated breath.

In the final episodes, the Professor also sees his reasoning questioned by some members of the gang, including Rio (Miguel Herran) who harbors doubts about the morality of stealing gold from the country’s reserves.

On the opposing side, Colonel Tamayo (Fernando Cayo) lost many of his men when he attempted to storm the bank, but is undeterred. He has made his life's mission to get the Professor and his group down on their knees and will stoop low to achieve this, as we come to see. 

“Money Heist” is gripping to the core, and we are so taken in by what is happening on screen that we are willing not only to forgive the misdeeds of the robbers, but also cheer them on. The emotional notes in the final episodes make it all the more magnetically appealing, and allow audiences to wave off the artistic liberties taken by the director with regards to some of the less than believable scenes. 

A particularly noteworthy focus of the latest run is Berlin (Pedro Alonso), whose life is revealed through flashbacks that make up a marvelous character study.

Audiences will be relieved to find a lot of questions are answered, and due the way it ends this global phenomenon is sure to be remembered for a long time.

US-Iraqi beauty mogul Mona Kattan gets engaged

Mona Kattan is the founder of the Kayali fragrance empire. (File/ Getty Images)
Mona Kattan is the founder of the Kayali fragrance empire. (File/ Getty Images)
Updated 04 December 2021

US-Iraqi beauty mogul Mona Kattan gets engaged

Mona Kattan is the founder of the Kayali fragrance empire. (File/ Getty Images)

DUBAI: Friends and fans flooded US-Iraqi beauty mogul Mona Kattan’s Instagram account on Saturday, after the Huda Beauty global president announced her engagement to Dubai-based businessman Hassan El-Amin.

“Forever Ever,” Kattan captioned a carousel of images posted late on Friday night, showing the Kayali fragrance founder posing with a diamond ring on her finger and alongside her soon-to-be husband.

Influencers, beauty entrepreneurs and celebrities took to Kattan’s comments section to send their well wishes.


A post shared by Mona Kattan (@monakattan“Congrats baby, (you) deserve the world,” doctor and influencer Sarah Al-Madani commented, while Faryal Makhdoom, wife of British boxing star Amir Khan, wrote “congrats cutie.”

According to El-Amin’s LinkedIn account, he is the head of facultative at Middle East and Africa at Aon Reinsurance Solutions and relocated to Dubai after studying at Cass Business School in London and graduating with a Masters of Science.

It seems Kattan’s new fiancé is as family-focused as she is — he even runs an Instagram account together with his two siblings called @the.elamins.

The siblings feature heavily in the carousel of images shared by Kattan, with snaps including both Sally and Ahmed El-Amin.

With a background in graphic design and illustrating, Sally boasts a portfolio of clients that includes  Huda Beauty, leading some to speculate that she could be the link between the loved-up couple.

The good news tops off a busy year for Kattan, who, alongside her sister Huda, announced a number of new investments and initiatives in 2021.

In the summer, the sister duo announced Ketish as the first brand to be launched by Huda Beauty Angels — which falls under HB Investments, their venture capital firm. Ketish, a feminine care label, is spearheaded by Eman Abbass, a former Huda Beauty product developer.

Since then, Mona has focused heavily on the sisters’ fragrance range, Kayali, of which she is the founder and creative head.

The latest Kayali product was launched this week and is called Eden Juicy Apple — a “playful, vibrant and super juicy” scent that is based on “crisp and juicy red apples, sweet berries and fresh floral notes,” according to the brand.

In October, Kayali won the coveted Niche Product of the Year prize at the Beautyworld Middle East Awards for its Sweet Diamond Pink Pepper fragrance.

What We Are Reading Today: The Government of Emergency

What We Are Reading Today: The Government of Emergency
Updated 04 December 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The Government of Emergency

What We Are Reading Today: The Government of Emergency

Authors: Stephen J. Collier & Andrew Lakoff

From pandemic disease, to the disasters associated with global warming, to cyberattacks, today we face an increasing array of catastrophic threats. It is striking that, despite the diversity of these threats, experts and officials approach them in common terms — as future events that threaten to disrupt the vital, vulnerable systems upon which modern life depends.
The Government of Emergency tells the story of how this now taken-for-granted way of understanding and managing emergencies arose. Amid the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War, an array of experts and officials working in obscure government offices developed a new understanding of the nation as a complex of vital, vulnerable systems. They invented technical and administrative devices to mitigate the nation’s vulnerability, and organized a distinctive form of emergency government that would make it possible to prepare for and manage potentially catastrophic events.

Misk Art Week showcases artists from Saudi Arabia and international community

Afra Aldhaheri’s “End of A School Braid” (2021), part of the Misk Art Grant exhibition “Under Construction” at Misk Art Week 2021. (Omar Al-Tamimi)
Afra Aldhaheri’s “End of A School Braid” (2021), part of the Misk Art Grant exhibition “Under Construction” at Misk Art Week 2021. (Omar Al-Tamimi)
Updated 03 December 2021

Misk Art Week showcases artists from Saudi Arabia and international community

Afra Aldhaheri’s “End of A School Braid” (2021), part of the Misk Art Grant exhibition “Under Construction” at Misk Art Week 2021. (Omar Al-Tamimi)
  • For its fifth year, Misk Art Institute’s annual event features several exhibitions exploring the nature of identity

RIYADH: Inside Riyadh’s Prince Faisal bin Fahd Arts Hall, multimedia artworks are displayed across the venue’s two floors on the theme of Takween, which means “form” in Arabic, and its relation to one’s identity.

As part of Misk Art Week’s fifth outing, taking place until Dec. 5, artists from Saudi Arabia, the Gulf, North Africa and the wider international community present art that questions identity — specifically how an individual’s social, historical and cultural origins influence their past, present and future.

From video works produced with AI to paintings, textile-based art and installations, the art on show aims, according to the Misk Art Institute, to offer a “critical platform for the creative community,” fostering cultural dialogue and intellectual exchange.

As visitors enter the hall, they are confronted by two dark figures by Saudi artist Filwa Nazer, made of black polyethylene industrial netting and titled The Other is Another Body (2021). The figures seem to guard the vibrantly colored wool-weave tapestry work hanging on a wall between them, titled Palm (1985), by American artist Sheila Hicks.

The works are part of Here, Now, the third in a series of the Misk Art Institute’s annual flagship exhibition, curated this time by British writer and curator Sacha Craddock alongside Misk’s assistant curators, Nora Algosaibi and Alia Ahmad Al-Saud.

The show, which features a mix of emerging and established artists and runs until Jan. 30, 2022, is the first in the Saudi capital to present works by both Saudi and international artists, including ones by well-known Saudi artists such as Manal Al-Dowayan’s abstract black and white work, I am Here (2016), Ayman Yossri Daydban’s Tree House (2019), and Sami Ali AlHossein’s colorful abstract figurative works on canvas. There is also a painting by renowned Sudanese painter Salah Elmur titled The Angry Singer (2015) and delicate floral drawings by Korean artist Young In Hong dating to 2009.

While without an overarching narrative, the show prompts the spectator to question, like the exhibition’s title, “why here and why now?” It encourages the visitor to reflect on the artworks and the nature of identity in a reflective, personal and subjective manner.

Upstairs is Under Construction, an exhibition of Misk Art Grant recipients who hail this year from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Algeria. The grant funds up to SR1 million ($266,632) and has been distributed among the nine participating artists and collectives.

Basma Al-Shathry, lead curator at Misk Art Institute, said: “This year’s Misk Art Grant exhibition, ‘Under Construction,’ explores how identity is perceived as an emblem of growth, continuity and endless iterations of cultural representation throughout history. It has been a delight to bring together artists and designers from both the Middle East and North Africa to address the theme as a process of development, repetition, distortion and incompleteness in a time of synthesis, understanding and promise for the future.”

Mira AlMazrooei and Jawaher AlMutairi’s “Glass Libary” (2021). Part of the Misk Art Grant exhibition titled  “Under construction” at Misk Art Week 2021. (Omar Al-Tamimi)

The works on show also respond to the theme of identity while focusing on how identity can be perceived as a method for growth and renewal, as well as social and historical continuity, via the incorporation of cultural representations throughout history.

One of the most poignant works is by Emirati artist and designer Latifa Saeed’s Sand Room (2021), which presents an assembly of sand-encased glass panels in the form of a cube that one can enter to observe the desert sand sediments that she collected from construction sites around Dubai.

Latifa Saeed’s “Sand room” (2021). Part of the Misk Art Grant exhibition titled “Under Construction” at Misk Art Week 2021. (Omar Al-Tamimi)

“My research and work is always about transformation, whether it be of a city or of one’s mentality,” Saeed told Arab News. “I began by building an archive of sand from Dubai because the sites from where I collected the sand we cannot visit anymore because they are now construction sites.

Saeed visited development sites in Dubai, and before the construction started she would collect sand from the area and label it accordingly. She now has more than 200 different types of sand from these areas.

“I am archiving, preserving and documenting the Dubai landscape, topography and the material itself,” she said.

Near to Saeed’s mesmerizing room of sand specimens is Emirati artist Afra Al-Dhaheri’s End of a School Braid (2021) — a large installation of twisted and backcombed off-white colored rope that hangs from the ceiling. In this piece Al-Dhaheri examines how hair can be seen as the keeper of memories, preserving not only time but cultural norms and heritage.

Bahraini artist Noor Alwan’s Sacred Spaces (2021), a series of hanging textile-based tapestry works, similarly seeks to preserve personal and collective memories. Growing up, she would watch her grandfather ritually draw hundreds of patterns on paper — a tradition that stemmed from his childhood and that immersed him in a meditative process of repetition. Alwan recalls his trance-like process of art creation and likens it to a shared Arab collective practice — with elements mirroring the mesmerizing geometric forms of Islamic art.

Nour Alwan’s “Sacred Spaces,” (2021). Part of the Misk Art Grant exhibition titled “Under Construction” at Misk Art Week 2021. (Omar Al-Tamimi)

Moving into the rapidly developing digital landscape is an engaging work by Saudi artist Obaid Alsafi, titled Beyond Language (2021), in which a poem by the late revered Saudi poet Muhammad Al-Thubaiti Poetry (1952-2011), titled Salutation to the Master of the Arid Land, is transformed into a video work with sound via artificial intelligence. For the work, which captivates the viewer through its colorful abstract images — some seem like palm trees while others appear to be figures — Alsafi trained the AI through data collection and machine learning to understand poetry and produce visual representations of each verse with accompanying machine-made sound.

“The first form of art in the region and the way we connected with each other was through poetry,” Alsafi, an artist who studied computer science, told Arab News. “Al-Thubaiti, one of Saudi’s pioneer poets, changed the way that poetry was written and read. Everyone sees AI as robotic, but my vision, I want to see how we can make the machine more human so that it understands language, learn and develop artwork depending on the vision of the artist. I believe artists can use AI as a tool to develop their work.”

Lastly, there is the second iteration of works created in the Masaha residency program, located in the basement of the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Arts Hall.

The program, part of Misk Art Institute’s mission to support Saudi and international practitioners across the artistic disciplines in the research and production of new works via mentorship opportunities, can be viewed on the ground floor. Titled HOME: Being and Belonging, the works by 10 visual artists from the UK, Guatemala, Morocco, India, South Korea, and from across Saudi Arabia, examine questions of how an individual and collective sense of belonging and nostalgia for one’s culture and heritage stems from one’s socio-cultural and ethnic background. The works on show explore how our sense of belonging changes and transforms with time.

The residency offers international artists the opportunity to create work on site at Masaha over a three-month cycle. Many of the participating artists are showing their work for the first time in the Kingdom — demonstrating once again Misk Art Institute’s broader aims to expand Saudi Arabia’s cultural landscape through international creative dialogue.

Hana Almilli’s “Through The Earth I Come Back Home” (2021). Part of the Masaha Residency showcase during Misk Art Week 2021. (Omar Al-Tamimi)


UAE-founded sustainable brand The Giving Movement gets charitable

Since its inception, the sustainable label has quickly gone on to become a staple in the wardrobes of social media influencers across the region. (
Since its inception, the sustainable label has quickly gone on to become a staple in the wardrobes of social media influencers across the region. (
Updated 03 December 2021

UAE-founded sustainable brand The Giving Movement gets charitable

Since its inception, the sustainable label has quickly gone on to become a staple in the wardrobes of social media influencers across the region. (

DUBAI: In the regional fashion industry, a handful of brands and organizations have been putting forth new initiatives that aim to give back to the community. Notably, The Giving Movement, an athleisure brand founded by Dominic Nowell-Barnes in Dubai in 2020, donates $4 of each sale to charity.

Since its inception, the sustainable label has quickly gone on to become a staple in the wardrobes of social media influencers across the region and was picked up by several e-retailers such as Ounass and Sivvi. But perhaps, its biggest accomplishment to date is raising over $1,000,000 in donations for local charities Dubai Cares and Harmony House India.

“The most important thing when I set out to do this project was just around feeling like we’ve done something good for the world,” Nowell-Barnes told Arab News.

“So when I started The Giving Movement, it was all about trying to find fulfillment and to feel that maybe in five, 10 years, when I looked back at where I’ve put my time and energy, it’s had a positive impact.”

The designer’s goal was to partner with charities that look after the basic needs of the less-fortunate, which is why he chose to partner with Dubai Cares and Harmony House India.

“Dubai Cares is predominantly focused on education, so the idea is that if you can educate people then they have the ability to get jobs and make a better future for themselves, as opposed to maybe just giving them a meal here or there. And then with Harmony House, they focus on the kind of immediate needs of providing food and shelter, and then ultimately education,” explains the designer.

The concept of giving back is very important and personal to Nowell-Barnes.

“Growing up in the north of England, I got to see very different types of lives. You can be walking down one street and there will be a guy driving a Ferrari, and the next minute you can be walking down a street where there’s people living on the sidewalk. This was my earliest recollection of feeling like life can be unfair to people,” he reflects.

“Therefore, I chose these charities because there are people who have just been dealt a bad hand so I want to spend the rest of my life supporting these people,” he added.

Harmony House currently looks after 700 disadvantaged children. The money raised by The Giving Movement will help provide food and shelter for these kids, in addition to providing the materials required to educate children with Dubai Cares.

Nowell-Barnes launched his genderless label in April 2020, after slowly losing interest in his 9-5 e-commerce job.

Despite launching in the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic — during the lockdown in Dubai when residents needed a police permit to leave their homes to go grocery shopping or run errands — the made-in-UAE brand was met with immediate success, which Nowell-Barnes attributes to people wearing activewear and loungewear more than ever as they were going out less and spending more time indoors.

In addition to its charitable aspect, the brand is sustainable too.

The Giving Movement only utilizes fabric that is either certified recycled or organic as well as low-impact dyes. Eventually, the brand wants to move into circularity by launching some sort of initiative to collect garments from customers once they have used them and rather than them throwing them away, the brand can send them to be recycled or reused.

“I want to make sure that what I am doing is not only good for other people, but also good for the planet,” concludes Nowell-Barnes.