Aurora Magazine

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Published in Sep-Oct 2021

Discovering Pakistan at Expo 2020 Dubai

"It is almost impossible to walk past the Pavilion without pausing for a moment and taking it in..."
Photo: Tehran Times
Photo: Tehran Times

The Pakistan Pavilion, reminiscent of the ninth century Derawar Fort in Punjab, stands solid and purposeful in the Opportunity District at Expo 2020 Dubai. It offers visitors a sensory journey through Pakistan’s past, present, and future, telling an epic story of a civilisation that prized innovation, imagination and creativity and eventually transformed into a cosmopolitan nation. 

Expo 2020 will be a global gathering of ideas, cultures and shared values. It will be a place where people can collaborate and imagine a future that is sustainable and full of possibilities. For Pakistan, it is an opportunity to show the world that it is aligned with the business and environmental agendas of the global community; that it can be a valuable trade partner and that it is worthy of the tourism, commerce and investment it seeks to attract.

The Pakistan Pavilion has a tough job to deliver. It needs to attract, engage and inspire visitors, and leave them with an impression of Pakistan that challenges mainstream narratives. To create this multi-dimensional space, some of the best minds of the country came together. They collaborated, ideated and created a space that shows Pakistan as an extraordinary country with immense economic potential.

Shahid Abdulla, a much respected and renowned architect, is the mastermind behind the architecture of the pavilion. Rashid Rana, a contemporary Pakistani artist whose work has been acclaimed on the international art circuit, is the façade designer – and delicately weaving together all these elements into an exquisite and evocative journey is the woman of the hour – Noorjehan Bilgrami, the principal curator of the Pavilion.

It is almost impossible to walk past the Pavilion without pausing for a moment and taking in its vibrant, prismatic façade. Rana has transformed the Pavilion’s architecture into a piece of art using his signature kaleidoscopic lens and visual artistry. The pulsating sound of drumbeats and the distinguished chanting of qawwali, emanating from camouflaged speakers, enhance the magic of this experience. 

The Pavilion is designed as a continuous journey through eight different spaces, each of which showcases Pakistan’s rich heritage, its vibrant culture, the splendour of its geography, the history of its people and the ambitions it has for its future. This sensory experience is brought to life by videos, installations, life-size projections, LED displays, musical interludes and a tasteful display of objects. Key highlights include an immersive experience that connects visitors to the incredible craftsmen of Pakistan, and unique arts such as ayina kari, kashikari, naqqashi, tanba-kari and more. Video documentation enables visitors to observe the lives of some of the oldest communities that are still thriving in Pakistan, such as the Mohanas of Sindh and the Kalash of the Hindu Kush mountains. The diverse spiritual traditions of Pakistan are acknowledged through a display of sculptures and symbols that represent the major faiths practised in the country and a contemporary installation cleverly uses sound, light and visuals to pay homage to Pakistan’s efforts at sustainability and biodiversity.

Enriching this immersion into Pakistan and its culture is a culinary experience that can be had at any one of the two restaurants located in the Pavilion. Planned by Kamran Shaikh, the main consultant for the hospitality experience at the Expo, The Dhaba is a casual, street style inspired eatery that offers authentic, yet contemporary, Pakistani food served tapas style. For a gourmet experience with impeccable service, exquisite food and a sophisticated ambience, Dawat is the way to go.

Expo 2020 is not only a platform for showcasing one’s national treasures. It is a conduit for creating and attracting opportunities, building connections, nurturing dialogue and enabling an exchange of ideas. For the next six months, the Pakistan Pavilion will host business sessions, workshops, cultural programmes and much more, to ensure that the conversations continue and that Pakistan is able to get some big wins.

Sheherzad Kaleem is a freelance writer based in Dubai. sheherzadk@gmail.com