Integrated throughout the Expo 2020 site, the 11 commissioned public artworks create a journey of ideas, aesthetics and concepts. They’re landmarks, both today and in the future, creating a real and imaginary path during Expo – and afterwards, when they will become an essential part of District 2020’s innovative character within the urban fabric of Dubai.
Curated by Tarek Abou El Fetouh, the Public Art Programe is a journey of immersive contemporary artworks.
Khalil Rabah has created a set of sculptures that reference an instrument invented in the 11th century CE to measure latitude. Operators of the machine use sunlight and the instrument’s three objects to draw diagrams that reveal the latitude of their location. Rabah reconstructs the tool and enlarges its elements to create a playful arena on a white marble platform with an engraved diagram indicating Expo 2020’s latitude. In his work, the artist explores the aesthetic aspects of this historical tool by revealing its constituent elements, setting its orbits into motion and inviting the audience to recognise their position on the planet.
Yinka Shonibare CBE’s work Wind Sculpture III harnesses the wind and freezes it in a moment in time. The artwork manifests as a large three-dimensional, hand-painted piece of fabric that appears to react to natural elements in the surrounding environment. Shonibare often uses patterns normally associated with African identity. The fabric portrayed in his work has a complicated history, highlighting an intersection of cultural backgrounds as a metaphor for the multi-layered identities in the world today, which the artist views as a network of artificial constructs.
One Day on Two Orbits is a floor sculpture by Nadia Kaabi-Linke that shows the shadows of a bicycle on the ground over a day, following the transition from day to night, from sun to moon. While the bicycle is invisible, the shape of the revolving shadow forms an image reminiscent of astronomical photographs of distant galaxies.
The work pays homage to Ibn Al-Haytham, who introduced the idea that the sun and moon revolve on geometrically and temporally different orbits. One Day on Two Orbits is a memorial to a discovery that relocated the Earth in the solar system, and harmonised different cultures of time.
Sonic Planetarium – Dripping Lunar Sextet is suggestive of a grand planetary model and is an extension of ongoing series, Sonic Sculptures. It draws on bells’ sonic associations with traditions across civilisations. Six arms are connected to a web of plate designs, variations on Islamic geometric patterns, and their orientation unfolds in endless patterns. The heads of Sonic Planetarium show similarities to planetary bodies in the universe, and the piece alludes to Ibn Al-Haytham and his work on perception, based on observations of the moon.
Garden is a floor sculpture by Hamra Abbas inspired by Mughal gardens and idyllic scenes depicted in miniature paintings. Historically, their style intended to represent an earthly utopia in which humans coexist with nature in perfect harmony. The imagery at work plays on the aesthetics of the desire for a blissful paradisiacal land, a feature found in many traditions worldwide. However, unlike a traditional garden, this garden has no vertical or horizontal enclosure. The earthly waterfalls, rocks, flowers and a tree that reaches into the heavenly stars above are all interconnected. Using the traditional marble and stone inlay technique from Lahore, the work examines the symbolic significance of garden images in relation to architecture through its evocative power and aesthetics to communicate that which is beyond description.
The Pavilion of Presence of Absence is a bronze sculpture formed by casting a block of frozen ice from the Nube Kangirlua Gorge on the coast of Greenland that has formed over millions of years from layers of compacted ice. This sculpture represents the tens of thousands of ice blocks that Greenland is losing every minute due to global warming. The bronze retains the shape of the ice piece and records the memory of its presence within the artwork, despite its melting and absence. Through this work, the artist continues to raise his questions about the vast cosmic time and geological time, and the tension caused by how the simultaneous conceptualisation of their nature as an abstract and tangible concept at the same time.