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DUBAI: One might initially doubt the connection between contemporary art and sustainability.

Can art be sustainable? Moreover, how does a work of art reflect the Middle Eastern response to issues of sustainability?

To this end, five thought-provoking art installations by four leading contemporary artists from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) were commissioned by Expo 2020 in collaboration with Art Dubai.

“Hugs” by Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim at Terra — The Sustainability Pavilion. (Supplied)
Those artists are Zeinab Al-Hashemi, Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim and Mohammed Kazem from the UAE and Ayman Zedani from Saudi Arabia.

Through their visual imagery, structure and positioning, the works reinforce the importance of sustainability at Expo 2020.

“The five pieces help to articulate our sustainability messages in uniquely visual and inspiring ways, further empowering people to make changes towards a cleaner, safer, healthier future,” said Marjan Faraidooni, chief experience officer at Expo 2020, in a statement.

Located in the walk-through area of the Terra pavilion, Emirati artist Ibrahim’s “Hugs” installation reveals a large maze-like space covered in black symbols, akin perhaps to a contemporary rendition of cuneiform. The installation prompts visitors to re-evaluate how their values impact the decisions they make each day and how those choices affect the wellbeing of our planet.

“When we were constructing Terra and the stories within, we were conscious of the hugely diverse audiences that we would be receiving at Expo 2020 from nearly every country in the world, from every age and every background,” John Bull, director of Terra — The Sustainability Pavilion, Expo 2020, told Arab News.

“Directions,” Expo 2020 by Mohammed Kazem at Terra — The Sustainability Pavilion. (Supplied)
“It was very important to me and my colleagues, as we looked to building Terra for the now and for its legacy, that we considered multiple viewpoints on the same topics. Contemporary art is a fantastic way of reaching out to our diverse audiences. These artworks also bring a new viewpoint on the subject of sustainability for children and more casual visitors,” he added.

Emirati artist Kazem showcased two artworks at Terra.

One is “Directions,” a work embedded into the building’s inside wall and displaying the geographic coordinates of worldwide visitors to the Expo 2020 Dubai site with the aim of inspiring them to think about ways to live more sustainably in the future.

Marjan Faraidooni is the chief experience officer at Expo 2020. (Supplied)
His second work is “Measuring,” an installation that is also embedded into the building’s wall on the ground floor and that challenges the common understanding of an architectural space.

Kazem, through the incorporation of high-tech sensorial lights, shows how the perception of the space can be determined by both one’s memory and mood.

Meanwhile, artist Al-Hashemi’s stainless steel corten metal ball, featured in the piece “Takween,” examines the responsibility of human beings to work with their natural environment, showing that the two are not divergent forces, but one and the same. Al-Hashemi’s large sphere, inspired by kinetic movement, aims to show how humans and the environment can interact.

“Measuring” by Mohammed Kazemin at Terra — The Sustainability Pavilion. (Supplied)
Lastly, Saudi artist Zedani has created a digital artwork called “Terrapolis,” which uses a purpose-designed digital algorithm to transform the identities of all contributors to the Sustainability Pavilion into digital organic entities that live in a simulation reflecting life from a parallel reality.

His work, where myriad colorful abstract forms move around the screen, blurs the distinction between various forms of life.

“Terrapolis” by Ayman Zedani at Terra — The Sustainability Pavilion. (Supplied)
Even after Expo 2020 has concluded, the artworks will live on as permanent installations. They are part of the plan to establish Terra’s legacy, which will transform into a Children’s Science Centre within District 2020 — the model global community that will be built in the same location and will reimagine the cities of the future as well as repurpose more than 80 percent of Expo’s environment.

Dubai Expo 2020 will run from Oct. 1, 2021 until March 31, 2022.

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