Expo 2020 Dubai offers rich art and cultural experiences: Hayat Shamsuddin - GulfToday

Expo 2020 Dubai offers rich art and cultural experiences: Hayat Shamsuddin

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Extreme close-up of Monira Al Qadiri’s sculpture, Chimera.

Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer

As Senior Vice President, Arts and Culture, Expo 2020 Dubai (Oct. 1 – Mar. 31, 2022), Dr Hayat Shamsuddin is responsible for overseeing that Expo 2020 Dubai offers rich and diverse cultural initiatives and content across the organisation, ensuring millions of visitors to the World Expo enjoy a genuine as well as contemporary Emirati experience.

Additionally, her work ensures that cultural expressions coordinate with Expo 2020’s theme of ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’ and key subthemes of Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability. Shamsuddin leads two pioneering, bespoke commissions for Expo 2020 Dubai: a curated Public Art Programme, comprising 11 specially commissioned artworks permanently installed across the Expo 2020 site, as well as a Design and Crafts Platform, which brings together over 40 designers and artisans to collaboratively produce contemporary design collections exclusive to Expo 2020 Dubai.


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Both programmes reflect and champion the contemporary arts scene of the UAE and position Expo 2020 Dubai within the global artistic and intellectual discourse. Prior to joining Expo 2020 Dubai, Shamsuddin’s career spanned diverse industries and sectors, bridging tourism, commerce, arts and culture to include art fairs, film festivals, television productions, book fairs and heritage festivals. She has worked with entities ranging from Emirates Airlines and Boston Consulting Group to Dubai Economic Department, Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism, and Dubai Culture and Arts Authority.

She gives a drone’s eye view of arts and culture at Expo 2020 Dubai.

How does the Public Art Programme and the Design and Crafts Programme reflect Expo 2020 Dubai’s theme, ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’ and underline Expo’s subthemes of Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability?

As one of the first mega-events to take place since the beginning of the pandemic, Expo 2020 Dubai’s theme of ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’ couldn’t be more relevant. Both the curated Public Art Programme, comprising 11 specially commissioned artworks permanently installed across the Expo 2020 site, as well as the Design and Crafts Programme, which brings together more than 40 designers and artisans to collaboratively produce leading contemporary collections, are programmes that invite creative conversations and dialogue that reflect Expo’s purpose of connecting minds to reimagine the world of tomorrow. Our three subthemes — Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability — are areas we see as essential to building a better world for everyone, and these are highlighted in the two pioneering, bespoke programmes.

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Dr Hayat Shamsuddin, Senior Vice President, Arts and Culture, Expo 2020 Dubai.

Through the Design and Crafts Programme for instance, we are presenting MENASA — Emirati Design Platform, which will showcase Emirati crafts in dialogue with contemporary design, technology and innovations at Expo 2020. MENASA has brought together diverse players from across the Emirati crafts and design scene — artisans, designers and organisations — to present new and innovative products, creating a collective and unique snapshot of the thriving creative activity across the UAE.

These collaborations between local and international artisans and designers is nurturing a rich cultural and creative dialogue in the largest ever gathering of local and international designers celebrating Emirati crafts and design.

Have previous Expos inspired you? If so, how?

World Expos have a strong history of bringing together people, communities and nations to build bridges and inspire action, and that has definitely inspired Expo 2020 and our aim to deliver real-life solutions to real-life challenges. Many important innovations have been showcased at World Expos ever since the Great Exhibition in London was held in the iconic Crystal Palace in 1851, and we aim to take this even further. The Public Art Programme is the first curated permanent open-air art exhibition in the UAE. It is aligned with the ambitious urban plans that will transform the Expo 2020 site into the future city of District 2020 and will leave a lasting impact as part of the next World Expo’s legacy.

How many members make up your team? What are their specialisations?

It is tricky to put a number on the members of the team, because the aim of the Arts and Culture Programme is to reflect the contemporary creativity of the UAE today and the position of the UAE as a centre for knowledge production. MENASA — Emirati Design Platform, for example, is one of the biggest gatherings of local and international designers celebrating Emirati crafts and traditions. It is curated by Samer Yamani, who specialises in contemporary crafts and design. He has curated and directed exhibitions and design collections in collaboration with prestigious institutions, brands and designers in more than 40 cities around the world, with a special focus on the Middle East.

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Extreme close-up of Monira Al Qadiri’s sculpture, Chimera.

The Public Art Programme is curated by Tarek Abou El Fetouh. An independent curator and architect, Tarek has established a variety of innovative initiatives, including at the 9th Sharjah Biennale in 2009 titled Past of the Coming Days and annual performance event Durub Al Tawaya in Abu Dhabi (2013–2018), to name a few.

Is there a secret or magic in the number 11 – 11 artworks in the Public Art Programme and 11 countries in the Design and Crafts Platform?

 The artists involved in the Public Art Programme have each created a substantial permanent public artwork that is interwoven within the urban fabric. However, the programme offers the possibility to add many more artworks in the future city of District 2020. Similarly, while there are more than 40 local and international designers, from 11 countries, commissioned to develop exclusive design collections inspired by local crafts and stories from the UAE for MENASA, the programme has big ambitions. Expo 2020, as a global platform bringing together more than 200 participants — including 192 nations, as well as multilateral organisations, businesses and educational establishments and millions of international visitors - is the starting point for launching MENASA.

How do the twin offerings contribute to the UAE’s ambition to be an active hub of Middle East arts, culture and knowledge production?

 With up to 25 million visits expected to the Expo site over the next six months, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to showcase talent and create a space for it to grow and prosper. We want the world to be inspired at what the UAE has to offer and its focus on encouraging collaboration from all corners of the world in the area of arts and culture. Our two pioneering, bespoke commissions for Expo 2020 Dubai contribute to the UAE’s ambition to be an active hub of Middle East arts, culture and knowledge production by reflecting and championing the contemporary arts scene of the UAE and positioning Expo 2020 Dubai within the global artistic and intellectual discourse.

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