In its full swing now, the breath taking Pakistan Pavilion stands tall at the Dubai Expo 2020, drawing in visitors to experience Pakistan’s rich and diverse culture. Aurora speaks to Rashid Rana, the maestro behind the exterior of the Pavilion.
Primarily known for his art practice, Rana occupies multiple profiles in the Pakistan’s cultural space. He mediates between being an artist, curator, educator and visionary, all founded on a non-prescriptive view of geography and identity. Notable for his ideas, imagery, and pictorial strategies, he has exhibited extensively at various galleries and museums globally. His works can be viewed at several public and private collections including the British Museum, London, Metropolitan Museum, New York, Fukuoka Museum of Art, Japan and the Saatchi Collection, London. He is the recipient of the prestigious Game Changer Asia Art Award and was awarded International Artist of the Year by SAVAC Canada in 2003. He is a founding faculty member and currently the Dean of the Mariam Dawood School of Visual Arts and Design at BNU, Lahore.
ZOYA ANWER: What is the concept behind the Pakistan Pavilion's facade? You have said it is based on the diversity Pakistan has to offer – could you elaborate?
RASHID RANA: Pakistan is arguably one of the more diverse countries in terms of climate, geography, ethnic and racial groups. It is also a melting pot of many cultures. This artistic intervention, titled ‘Unity of All that Appears’, is a celebration of this diversity, and emphasises the need to acknowledge and cherish diversity, leading to unity. In a way, it hints at the recipe for a harmonious relationship between the collective and the individual, the whole and its parts.
ZA: Why do you think it worked so well, even with audiences who did not know what it depicted?
RR: As an artist I believe that visual language is understood by wider audience. A written concept is not necessary to appreciate an art work. I intentionally employed visual strategies to enhance the visual appeal of the building by optically breaking the solidity and monotony of the exterior mass through the effect of layering, depth, fragmentation, and perforation. This is achieved through geometry, reflectivity of the material used and printed imagery, resulting in a complexity and multiplicity of views executed through a very simple order.
ZA: What barriers, if any, did you encounter in designing the Pavilion?
RR: The challenge was exciting. While I had complete freedom, the scale inspired me. The past 15 years of my practice have made me more adaptable in conceiving works digitally in Pakistan. They are fabricated in other parts of the world through remote communication and then exhibited worldwide. This aspect of my practice has been crucial, and worked well in coordinating the teams during this global pandemic and maintaining an uninterrupted communication between the stakeholders.
ZA: How long did the process take from start to finish?
RR: I have been involved in this project for almost three years. Considering the pandemic and virtual communication between the studio and the team in Dubai, the fabrication and on ground installation took place in the last four months.
ZA: What are the other intricacies involved with building the façade that people would not know about?
RR: A major detail that goes often unnoticed is that although the micro units seem identical, they are in fact all unique pieces; only fractionally different in size, colour and geometry from the adjacent panel. However, they are brought together in a harmonious order.
ZA: What materials did you use and why?
RR: The primary material is Alucobond brand ‘aluminium composite panels’ (ACP). The panels are of a rhombus shape, made in varying sizes and geometry. One half has a mirror finish, the other a printed image, using the UV printing technology.
ZA: What are your preferences in terms of the material you use to create art?
RR: I was trained as a painter in terms of my formal education, but over the years my practice has evolved to be idea-driven; Ideas are central to my imagery and pictorial strategies, and then the choice of medium and format follows. Therefore, for the past two decades, I have worked in dramatically different modes, such as painting, stainless steel sculpture, video installation, photo-sculpture, and photo mosaic.
ZA: What is your most significant accomplishment to date, other than the Pakistan Pavilion?
RR: This is a question that should be answered by my audience and art critics. I generally feel satisfied for the fact that through my artmaking, curriculum-making, and exhibition-making (as an artist, educator, and a curator respectively) I stood for non-prescriptive notions of identity. In terms of specific achievements, it is hard to select one over the other, but I was very pleased when my work was included in an exhibition ‘The Treasures of The World’ curated from the collection of British Museum. The exhibition was held at the Singapore Museum and was dubbed by the media as “Human History in 239 Objects”; having my work as part of this, felt special.
ZA: Who would you consider as Pakistan's current top/upcoming artists?
RR: Not many people are aware that there is large number of contemporary artists in Pakistan and in the Pakistani diaspora who are contributing to the larger contemporary art discourse with their work. The list is long, but to mention a few; Risham Syed, Adeela Suleman, Basir Mehmood, Salman Toor, Imran Qureshi, Bani Abidi, Aisha Khalid, Adeel uzfar, Faisal Anwar, Ayaz Jokhio, Quddus Mirza, Sajjad Ahmed, Ehsan ul Haq, Mahbub Jokhio, Mohammed Ali Talpur, Iqra Tanveer, Aroosa Rana among many others.
ZA: Where does Pakistan lack when it comes to fine art, other than awareness and encouragement to pursue it as a profession?
RR: I feel there is a need for better reception and due patronage in both the public and private sectors. The status of the art and the artist in society needs to be elevated and the media can play an important role it. I am pleased I agreed to take on the project for the Pakistan Pavilion exterior. The response from the public may have played a tiny role changing/widening the perception about artists.
Zoya is a freelance multimedia journalist who writes about culture and socio-political issues and is greatly interested in relationships between public spaces, gender, faith and class. She can be found on Twitter @ZoyaAnwerNaqvi