The Plinth by artist Shaikha Al Mazrou on display as part of the Public Art Programme in the Sustainability District, Expo 2020 Dubai. (Photo by Roman Mensing/Expo 2020 Dubai)

Art adorns public areas creating a vibrant display across the Expo 2020 site. Curated by Tarek Abou El Fetouh, the Public Art Programme is a journey of immersive contemporary artworks that are designed to challenge perceptions and encourage creative ideas, inspired by the 11th century Arab mathematician, astronomer and physicist Ibn al Haytham’s seminal work, Book of Optics.

Garden by artist Hamra Abbas on display as part of the Public Art Programme at Al Forsan Park, Expo 2020 Dubai. (Photo by Roman Mensing/Expo 2020 Dubai)
Garden by artist Hamra Abbas on display as part of the Public Art Programme at Al Forsan Park, Expo 2020 Dubai. (Photo by Roman Mensing/Expo 2020 Dubai)

For this programme, 11 never-before-seen public artworks are interwoven within its urban fabric inviting visitors to enjoy dynamic, thought provoking and impressive large-scale installations creating a journey of concepts, ideas and aesthetics. It features works by Emirati artists, Shaikha Al Mazrou, Abdullah Al Saadi, Afra Al Dhaheri and Asma Belhamar exhibited alongside other pieces by leading colleagues from the region and beyond. Kuwaiti artist Monira Al Qadiri’s bold eye-catching piece Chimera was chosen to launch the program. Her gigantic iridescent, oil drill shaped sculpture with its magnified size and reflected colour evokes a futuristic creature from outer space. Other commissioned artists include Hamra Abbas, Olafur Eliasson, Nadia Kaabi-Linke, Khalil Rabah, Yinka Shonibare and Haegue Yang.

Chimera by artist Monira Al Qadiri on display as part of the Public Art Programme in the Opportunity District, Expo 2020 Dubai. (Photo by Roman Mensing/Expo 2020 Dubai)
Chimera by artist Monira Al Qadiri on display as part of the Public Art Programme in the Opportunity District, Expo 2020 Dubai. (Photo by Roman Mensing/Expo 2020 Dubai)

Shaikha Al Mazrou’s eye-catching marble installation is made to conceptually and formally refer to plinths tied together by a rubber band. Expressing her aesthetic language, The Plinth manages to divert materiality and creates a striking form demonstrating an interesting interplay between tension and balance. The artist hopes the sculpture allows the possibility of other artists to create artworks that can be exhibited in relation to it while serving as a tool for future dialogues with them.

The Plinth by artist Shaikha Al Mazrou on display as part of the Public Art Programme in the Sustainability District, Expo 2020 Dubai. (Photo by Roman Mensing/Expo 2020 Dubai)
The Plinth by artist Shaikha Al Mazrou on display as part of the Public Art Programme in the Sustainability District, Expo 2020 Dubai. (Photo by Roman Mensing/Expo 2020 Dubai)

Another featured talent from the UAE, Adbullah Al Saadi, presents Terhal, a work of art that poetically translates the beautiful natural surroundings of Wadi Tayyibah in the emirate of Fujairah. The artist creates map-like paintings on stones inviting the viewer to discover and engage with the unique archeological language displayed.

Terhal by artist Abdullah Al Saadi on display as part of the Public Art Programme in the Opportunity District, Expo 2020 Dubai. (Photo by Roman Mensing/Expo 2020 Dubai)
Terhal by artist Abdullah Al Saadi on display as part of the Public Art Programme in the Opportunity District, Expo 2020 Dubai. (Photo by Roman Mensing/Expo 2020 Dubai)

The additional two Emirati works within the Public Art Programme were curated by Muneera Al Sayegh and Mohammed Al Olama. The first is Pillow Fort by Afra Al Dhaheri, which is inspired by the traditional Emirati floor pillow, tikkay. Conjuring the playful childhood memories of building a pillow fort, the striking marble structure aims to become a tool connecting society with the common endearing recollection.

Afra Al Dhaheri, Pillow Fort Playground. Marble, 289 x 357 x 160 cm, 52 x 143 x 120 cm © Afra Al Dhaheri 2021. Commissioned by and Collection of Expo 2020 Dubai. On display as part of the Public Art Programme on the Ghayath Trail, Expo 2020 Dubai
Afra Al Dhaheri, Pillow Fort Playground. Marble, 289 x 357 x 160 cm, 52 x 143 x 120 cm © Afra Al Dhaheri 2021. Commissioned by and Collection of Expo 2020 Dubai. On display as part of the Public Art Programme on the Ghayath Trail, Expo 2020 Dubai

The other, Distorted Familiarities, by artist Asma Belhamar, explores nature and the built environment and fuses the two realities of our modern world. Using glass-fibre concrete and steel, she creates a beguiling installation representing the visual distortion experienced when going from the natural to the urban landscape, which feels like shifting through scales and times.

Distorted Familiarities by artist Asma Belhamar on display as part of the Public Art Programme on the Ghayath Trail, Expo 2020 Dubai. (Photo by Thorsten Arendt/Expo 2020 Dubai)
Distorted Familiarities by artist Asma Belhamar on display as part of the Public Art Programme on the Ghayath Trail, Expo 2020 Dubai. (Photo by Thorsten Arendt/Expo 2020 Dubai)

This remarkable collection has been designed to reflect the history of the arts and its complex yet rich connection with science and philosophy in this region. Ibn al-Haytham may have been a pioneer in his time, but his contribution certainly strikes a cord even today, by helping us to understand the phenomena and the relation between the imagined and the perceived and to explore the commonality among humans while understanding cultural particulars.

Hopefully, these public artworks will form a lasting landmark and continue to enthrall visitors while becoming an essential part of Expo 2020’s artistic legacy.


A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN PRINT IN SELECTIONS #57

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