Expo 2020’s Vice President of Arts and Culture Discusses the Cultural Expectations of the Upcoming Event

Lindsay Judge   |   12 - 02 - 2020

Dr. Hayat Shamsuddin – Vice President, Arts and Culture Expo 2020 Dubai explains why she wants the world to know more about the love and culture in the Arab world. 

With Expo 2020 kicking off in Dubai this October there is so much to look forward to. Celebrating the past, present and most importantly the future of the UAE and the world, the event expects to attract over 25 million visitors from 192 different countries over a six month period. One of the key segments of Expo 2020 is the Arts and Culture programme, which will support creativity, innovation and culture, promoting the rich history and traditions of the UAE and the Arab world to visitors from all across the globe.



Headed up by Dr. Hayat Shamsuddin – Vice President, Arts and Culture Expo 2020 Dubai, the Arts and Culture programme has three initiatives: the Visual Arts Programme, the Design & Crafts Programme and the commissioning of the first Emirati opera, Al Wasl. These contemporary creations will bring together some of the best artists, designers and musicians from around the world to inspire millions of visitors to engage with and explore new ideas and stories. Ahead of the start of Expo 2020 later this year we speak to Dr. Hayat Shamsuddin to discover more about what her sector of the project has to offer and why it’s so important to share the traditions of Emirati culture with the world.


What does it mean to you to be part of Expo 2020?


It is an incredible honour and privilege to be here and be able to showcase the UAE’s rich culture and generous sense of hospitality on a global platform. It is also, simultaneously, a very humbling experience to be contributing to such a momentous World Expo.


What is the most challenging part of your role?


The most challenging aspect of my role is ensuring we do justice to the full depth and diversity of the UAE’s culture when showcasing it to the world in a truly authentic way.



How do you plan to attract an international audience into understanding more about arts and culture in Emirati culture?


We are very excited that Expo 2020 will be presenting curated Visual Arts and bespoke Design and Crafts Programmes as well as commissioning Al Wasl, the first Emirati Opera. This will offer an Emirati perspective and embody the contemporary arts scene of the UAE. Through these initiatives, Expo 2020 offers a global platform for millions of international visitors to discover more about arts and culture in the UAE. By bringing together talent from around the world, these programmes reflect the cosmopolitan cities of the UAE that welcome more than 200 nationalities with diverse cultural backgrounds and languages. Our programmes are also designed to highlight the UAE as a global centre of the creative and knowledge economy in the region.


Why do you think it’s important to share the traditions of the Arab culture and in particular the Emirati culture with the rest of the world?


With 192 participating countries, Expo 2020 will be the largest ever event staged in the Arab world. While each country is invited to showcase their own culture, millions of visitors from around the world will experience warm Emirati hospitality at its finest, as well as the UAE’s values of inclusion, tolerance, generosity and cooperation. Expo 2020 provides the ideal platform for every participating country to share their traditions to a global audience. As the host country, it is particularly important to highlight the UAE’s capacity to bring the world together, promoting collaboration and cross-pollination of thoughts, cultures and ideas.


What are your thoughts on the young Emiratis within the arts and culture industries and what can you tell us about their interest in these sectors?


The UAE boasts a young population, with an average age of just 33.5 years and it is a very young, dynamic nation. Therefore, youth is at the heart of our World Expo. With established and up-and-coming museums, the staging of art and design biennales and fairs, universities and various performing arts centres cementing a vibrant artistic scene, the UAE is fast becoming a global hub for arts, culture and knowledge production. The exciting range of Expo 2020-led and community-centred programmes, being launched in the run-up to The World’s Greatest Show, reinforce the UAE’s position and reflect the openness and cosmopolitan nature of the citizens of the UAE.

 We also have a range of initiatives designed specifically to include locally-based UAE schoolchildren and students. Excerpts from Al Wasl, for example, will be performed by choirs from UAE schools on the largest stage on our Expo site. There will also be certified courses and workshops, so that students can engage with the performing arts.


What is the one thing you would love the world to know about the culture that you don’t think is really out there yet?


The UAE’s rich heritage, sense of universality and forward-thinking approach proves that you can have one foot in tradition and one foot in the future – and, together, they create a very inspirational nation.



On a personal level, what impresses you the most about Emirati culture?


Emirati culture is special because it fosters unity and a can-do spirit. In the UAE, we embrace challenges and achieve the impossible while maintaining our values.


Al Wasl Opera is an exciting project – what can you tell us about what we can expect to see there?


Al Wasl is the historical name for Dubai. It means ‘connection’ in Arabic and aptly reflects Dubai’s geographical location, which has made it a natural trading hub. For the opera, we have taken inspiration from Dubai being a connector of civilisations. Al Wasl tells the story of the UAE, focusing on human connections as well as the importance of respecting the earth.


A very unique production commissioned by Expo 2020, Al Wasl brings together some of the best talents from around the world. It will include music by award-winning composer Mohammed Fairouz, dialogue penned by best-selling author Maha Gargash and will be produced in collaboration with Welsh National Opera. More than 100 Emirati and global artists and musicians will be involved, along with a production team of 70 professionals. The two-hour opera will be performed in both Arabic and English, and audiences can expect to see thousands of years of culture and history brought to life, showcasing the UAE’s unique civilisation from its Bedouin roots to its status as a progressive, modern multicultural hub.



How do you think students will benefit from the opera project?


Ahead of the premiere of Al Wasl, Expo 2020 has launched a series of initiatives designed to provide a unique opportunity for locally-based UAE schoolchildren and students to participate in certified courses, workshops, perform on stage and experience immersive opera at Expo 2020 Dubai.


The first educational programme, launched in October 2019, is designed in collaboration with Welsh National Opera and includes a series of interactive workshops where students and teachers have the opportunity to meet experts in music education, drama, storytelling and theatre production. Our next student workshops will be held in February 2020 and registration is now open. 


The second initiative, ‘Nasheed Al Wasl’, will give school students 

a valuable opportunity to participate in 30-minute musical performances in a choir accompanied by a professional orchestra at Expo 2020 Dubai. Each show will feature a group of 250 students from multiple schools, and each group will have a dedicated choir director assigned by Expo 2020 Dubai, who will ensure the artistic integrity and quality of the performances.


What can you tell us about Atelier 2020?


Running alongside Al Wasl is the Atelier 2020 project, which will help establish world-class make-up and costumes training courses – the first of their kind to be brought to the region. Expo 2020 has signed agreements with the London College of Makeup and the Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation (DIDI) to create specialised courses for students in the UAE.


Creating opportunities for the UAE’s youth to embark on behind-the-scenes careers in the theatre and movie industry, the programme includes three Atelier 2020 make-up courses, run by the Dubai-based London College of Make-up, which will focus on special effects, theatre and stage, and fashion and media make-up. The eight-week courses start in 2020 and prospective students can find out more at www.londoncollegeofmakeup.com.


DIDI’s costume design for theatre courses will form part of the DIDI Bachelor of Design and will teach students visual literacy and the required technological skills, based on a collaboration and sustainable approach.



What is your department doing to support sustainability?


The arts and culture initiatives address issues of sustainability, both through exploring the values of preserving our planet in the Al Wasl opera and through the technology used in our courses that support sustainability, where a worthwhile and renewable approach is embedded in all our programmes.


What would you still love to achieve during your role?


I would love to see the fruition of the legacy of the arts and culture initiatives. These include the curated Visual Arts Programme, which will bring together leading artists from the UAE and around the world, and for the first time in the UAE, integrate permanent landmarks of contemporary art installations into the fabric of a new neighbourhood, District 2020. I look forward to seeing residents of this city of the future engage with public art. The Design and Crafts Programme, meanwhile, will see the proceeds from collections created for Expo 2020 go to the UAE Designer Fund, established by Expo 2020 to support local designers and small and medium-sized design businesses. I would like to see the fund mature and work towards ensuring local talents strengthen their presence in the UAE and reach a global audience. I also look forward to the success of the first Emirati opera, as Al Wasl tours the world after its run at Dubai Opera from 21-24 October 2020.


What is your vision for the arts and culture of the UAE after 2020 and going forward into 2021?


Expo 2020 Dubai aspires to create a meaningful legacy that will benefit generations to come, both locally and globally, spanning everything from architecture and technology to connections and business opportunities. This, of course, includes arts and culture. Expo 2020 will provide a catalyst for arts and cultural innovation by bringing together local, regional and international expertise to deliver a once-in-a-lifetime event, with the aim of showcasing the great potential of the region, promoting its rich contemporary artistic creativity and providing an inspiring future for residents, visitors and future generations to carry forward.



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