Expo 2020 Dubai: Dr Hayat Shamsuddin, Senior Vice President, Arts and Culture, on Supporting Artists and Local Talent Through the Global Event

Lindsay Judge   |   03-10-2021

Dr Hayat Shamsuddin, Senior Vice President, Arts and Culture, Expo 2020 Dubai shares an insight into what we can expect from the creative sectors at the global event.


As Expo 2020 Dubai opens its doors there is so much to celebrate in all sectors of business, innovation, the future, and so much more. But one of the key elements of this global event is to shed light on art and culture, both in the region and globally, celebrating some of the world’s greatest talent.


As Senior Vice President, of Arts and Culture at Expo 2020 Dubai Dr Hayat Shamsuddin is responsible for overseeing the smooth running of this sector and ensuring that the event showcases some of the world’s greatest art talent. Through various programmes and initiatives, Expo 2020 will present and celebrate arts and culture in the UAE and the region, sharing the incredible talent we have here with the rest of the world as well as inviting the different cultures to understand and immerse themselves in the UAE’s arts and crafts scene. In line with the theme of Expo 2020; ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’ and the key themes of Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability, Shamsuddin heads up two key projects that showcase and celebrate arts and culture in the region.


The Public Arts Programme and MENASA, the Emirati Design Platform will help to showcase the best of international and local talent as well as shine a light on the UAE’s arts and crafts scene. We find out more about this and the upcoming plans for the Arts & Culture sector at Expo 2020 Dubai.


Visitors at Al Wasl Plaza


We are almost ready for Expo 2020 to open – how are you working to build the momentum of the projects you’re working on and raise awareness of the Arts and Culture sectors?

We are all incredibly excited to have reached this point and to be ready to welcome the world to Expo 2020 Dubai –the greatest cultural gathering on Earth. The lead-up to Expo’s opening has generated momentum of its own. You can feel it in the streets and in the media, you can feel it engaging with the artists and the workers on-site, you can feel it talking to the volunteers and the managers of the Country Pavilions. You can feel it across Dubai and the whole of the UAE.


We have mobilised all of our resources to raise awareness of what Expo 2020 is all about through our media campaigns – gradually revealing upcoming events such as the incredible Opening Ceremony, the headline talents for our Infinite Nights series, the content of our Public Arts Programme and MENASA, the Emirati Design Platform – to name just a few. And once Expo gets going, we will continue to share the many cultural events taking place every hour for up to 15 hours of every single day over the next six months, with the rest of the world through every available channel.


Tell us a little about some of the platforms that have been put in place to showcase the best of Emirati talent in the worlds of art and culture?

Expo 2020 coincides with the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the UAE so there will be numerous platforms where visitors can discover the best of Emirati talent. I lead two pioneering, bespoke commissions for Expo 2020 Dubai that reflect and champion the contemporary art scene of the UAE and position Expo 2020 Dubai within the global artistic and intellectual discourse. The first is a curated Public Art Programme, comprising of 11 specially commissioned artworks that have been permanently installed across the Expo 2020 site, and the second is a Design and Crafts Platform, which brings together more than 40 designers and artisans to collaboratively produce contemporary design collections that are exclusive to Expo 2020 Dubai.


I would also encourage visitors to explore the stunningly beautiful UAE Pavilion, brimming with exhibitions that showcase Emirati culture and achievements. The Expo site is one vast open-air art gallery with artworks, installations and sculptures located in all three districts – Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability – as well as in the numerous parks and open spaces.


Expo 2020 – Al Wasl Plaza


How do you think the Public Art Programme is helping to support and nurture local talent?

The Public Art Programme is the first of its kind in the UAE and the region. The programme has engaged with contemporary artists to create artworks within the public spaces of a neighbourhood while it is being planned and built. These artworks are permanent; they will stay in the urban fabric, so the residents and visitors to Expo’s legacy neighbourhood, District 2020, will interact with concepts, aesthetics and knowledge that come from different parts of the world. The artworks of local artists are presented in connection with the creation of their regional and international counterparts and the presence of these artworks will open doors for creativity and imagination to flourish.


And how do you think MENASA – the Emirati Design Platform is nurturing local talent?

MENASA is a platform for Emirati crafts and design at Expo 2020 Dubai, presented by the Design and Crafts Programme. The collective approach of MENASA, which means ‘platform’ in Arabic, is inspired by the theme and spirit of Expo 2020 Dubai, ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’. By bringing together artisans and designers from the UAE and around the world, MENASA is nurturing a rich cultural and creative dialogue. MENASA tells the stories of the UAE of today through exclusive curated design collections by more than 40 local and international designers, displayed within a vibrant design and retail space at Al Wasl Plaza, at the heart of Expo 2020 Dubai.



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.


How do you think the artists can be empowered through the platform?

World Expos have a 170-year-old tradition of creating a space for creativity, for innovation and collaboration in all fields, not just arts and culture. Expo 2020 will be a space, a platform, where visitors can see the world in one place. Every visitor experience will be unique, every Country Pavilion will have something special to offer. For artists involved in Expo or for those visiting the site, there is the opportunity to engage in dialogue and creative conversations. As a source of inspiration and as a space where ideas can be exchanged, there is nothing approaching what Expo 2020 has to offer. It will be the largest event ever held in the Arab world and the first World Expo to be held in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) region.


Can you share details on some of the talented artists that our readers should know about?

The Public Art Programme will present 11 creations by artists from the UAE, the wider region and the world in the public spaces of the Expo 2020 site. These permanent substantial public artworks will be landmarks, becoming an essential part of District 2020’s innovative character, interwoven within its urban fabric and a future platform for contemporary artistic practices in the city of Dubai.


The works of the artists – Monira Al Qadiri, Hamra Abbas, Afra Al Dhaheri, Shaikha Al Mazrou, Abdullah Al Saadi, Asma Belhamar, Olafur Eliasson, Nadia Kaabi-Linke, Khalil Rabah, Yinka Shonibare and Haegue Yang – will live on in the future city of District 2020. Their work will be an essential part of the visual identity of the neighbourhood.


Expo 2020 Al Wasl Plaza


What are some highlights we can expect to see throughout the duration of Expo 2020 in relation to the art and culture sector?

The contemporary artworks of the Public Art Programme, curated by Tarek Abou Elfetouh, are certainly a highlight. They will form a creative journey around Expo 2020’s public spaces, where visitors are invited to engage with the theories on perception and the power of imagination formulated by the famous Arab mathematician, astronomer and physicist, Ibn Al Haytham. Ibn Al Haytham’s seminal work Book of Optics (c. 11th century) argued that perception is never complete without prior knowledge, comparative measures, memory and imagination. Another highlight will be MENASA – the Emirati Design Platform, curated by Samer Yamani, which has brought together all the players within the design ecosystem and maps the diversity and breadth of the Emirati design scene, showcasing established and emerging designers, as well as the public and private organisations that support the local crafts and design community. It is the largest ever gathering of local and international designers celebrating Emirati crafts and design.


What is a message you would send to our readers about the upcoming opening of Expo 2020?

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’ is more relevant than ever. So too is the role of Expo in bringing together people, communities and nations to build bridges, inspire action and deliver real-life solutions to real-life challenges.


My message is: “Don’t come once. Come many, many times. With so many immersive experiences, so many creative dialogues to engage in and so many architectural wonders to marvel at, a single day won’t even scratch the surface of what will be the world’s biggest and most spectacular cultural gathering.”