Pavilion with a Soul

Ghazala Tikki Zaman
Ghazala Tikki Zaman
Tabassum Vally
Tabassum Vally

Published: Wed 23 Mar 2022, 12:00 AM

Thoughtful, beautifully illustrated, brilliantly executed and well-received by millions of visitors. Bravo Pakistan Pavilion, Bravo Dubai!



Sacred Space
Sacred Space
Mangroves at Korangi Creek
Mangroves at Korangi Creek
Sheesh Mahal  Pathway of Mirrors
Sheesh Mahal Pathway of Mirrors

An impressive coming together of 192 countries at Expo 2020 Dubai has been an outstanding achievement. In the beginning of 2020, when the world came to a standstill, many doubts were raised about the participating countries, but Dubai, in its characteristic resilience, put up one of the most visited Expo.

As 192 countries opened their doors to millions of visitors, some pavilions attracted more than the usual footfall. Pakistan pavilion was surely one of them with almost 1.2 million visitors till the mid of March.

From far, the pavilion looked like enormous structures of fluid colours and moving images. As one got drawn to the changing kaleidoscope, it did not take long to get totally enchanted by a wealth of colours, exhibits and information. The theme of the pavilion was very carefully chosen and was centered around the soul of a nation that has seen many struggles, hardships and dark days as the pandemic struck in 2020. In the words of Rizwan Tariq - Pavilion Director, there were many trying times given the situation in the world since March 2020.

At the beginning of 2020, the pavilion seemed like a far-fetched dream as most of the country was in lockdown. However, in spite of all the hurdles and turmoil, Pakistan has always maintained its unbeaten soul and this is very visible in the pavilion.

The Dawn of Civilization
The Dawn of Civilization

Determined not to miss the opportunity of bringing Pakistan to a platform where millions would visit and get a sense of country’s soul, the team of organisers artists, architects and well known philanthropists did not leave any stone unturned. The pavilion was meant to take its visitors through a mesmerising journey of the subcontinent’s past history as it is commonly believed that future is only a product of what has gone before. The pavilion not only succeeded in doing this, but also drew over a million visitors who expressed interest in the country’s history and its rich heritage.

Craft Traditions
Craft Traditions

“The Pakistan Pavilion is amazing. Pakistan is absolutely the best one (unbiased and objective view), I say this because the exterior is so beautifully done in a futuristic design and the different areas inside the pavilion bring out the history, culture and beauty of the country so well, while making such good use of technology,” said Sukaina Sheriff, a banker at a local bank.

The pavilion has been cleverly divided into eight spaces with the first depicting life in subcontinent 9,000 years ago. As one walks along the beautifully painted walls, one gets to see and read about life in the Indus valley, which then progresses to 712 AD when Mohammad bin Qasim invaded the subcontinent and this era is followed by a narration of various dynasties such as the Tughlaqs and the Mughals. The narration illustrated alongside walls of the corridors is delightful and, as one moves along the corridors, it almost seems that time is moving with them, bringing them to different chapters in history.

The historical narration gradually transcends into the next space, which leaves the visitors awe-struck. The beautifully curated replica of the Shish Mahal, which is a palace adorned with glass and mirrors reflecting light and images of the visitors, recreates the grandeur of Mughal architecture. An integral part of the Lahore fort, beautifully replicated, the Shish Mahal was undoubtedly a favorite of the visitors.

As the visitors proceed to next space, their souls are stirred by the sound of traditional Sufi music— a reminder that Pakistan has its roots embedded in spiritualism. The theme here is based on tolerance and respect for all religions practiced in Pakistan. The message here is very clear, Pakistan is open for all religious practices and the very essence of its existence is to rise above ideological and religious differences. A message very wisely delivered to the world through the beautiful poetry and photos of different places of worship. The sounds of the Darvish and haunting music of the traditional Qawwali create a trance around the four walls.

As visitors proceed to the next space, they are given a glimpse of the captivating flora and fauna of Pakistan. The hues of country’s natural beauty captures the attention and film projections of the sights and sounds of picturesque Pakistan speaks volumes for the recent influx of tourists to the country. Nasir Malik, a well-known and much acclaimed photographer and a true artist at heart, created enthralling projections of scenic beauty and one almost feels transported to the fields and mountains of Pakistan.

The captivating information on the flora and fauna came as a surprise to even some Pakistanis, who had forgotten the beautiful landscape of their homeland. A wonderful reminder of home for some, almost moved to tears. The blue skies, the flower-laden picturesque mountains and array of coloured birds were enough to move the soul for those looking to experience the abundance of natural beauty.

A walk through a virtual forest created by green laser beams makes one forget that one is not in a forest. The enchanted sounds of the birds as one passes the virtual trees transports one to a world of tranquility and a peaceful sanctuary of exotic birds indigenous to Pakistan. It gives you goosebumps when walking through this section, you seem to feel as if you are truly walking through a rain forest with the accompanying droplets and sounds.

As one walks into the land of opportunity they are introduced to the exports of Pakistan. The beautifully handcrafted items are elegantly displayed. The vivid colors of truck art and the healing pink salt are all intriguing and stir a lot of curiosity in the products. And ofcourse, Pakistan is known for its hospitality and hence it’s no surprise that it had a little ‘Dhaaba’ for tea and snacks along with a restaurant namely ‘Dawat’.

But behind the glory of the much sought-after pavilion are tales of relentless hard work of a team of people who, for the love of their country, did not leave any stone unturned. “Even with the Covid-19 situation, the Expo has been extremely successful, as evidenced by the long queues and some of the top pavilions are Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Japan, Pakistan, Hungary, Portugal, Morocco and Thailand,” said Carmelina from Australia, working at the Expo 2020 Dubai. Though the Pakistan pavilion boasts among one of the best of 192 countries, the story of the pavilion is fascinating, impressive and not void of it’s trying times. There were many challenges to be faced, the biggest being the pandemic which made it hard to raise funds, plan and execute the project. All eyes would be at the Expo and millions of visitors would be viewing the pavilion and Pakistan wanted to put up a show that would be memorable.

Looking back, Rizwan Tariq talks about the trial and tribulations of a tough start in 2020. Since March 2020, the world had changed and there were lockdowns and dismal days ahead. Given the situation, a lot of doubts arose and the question was, if Pakistan could deliver. Frantic meetings between ministries, architects, planners and organisers were being arranged. A special mention to Abdul Razak Dawood, Advisor for Commerce and Investment to the PM for spearheading the project, a seven member trust — Patrons of Expo 2020 Pakistan comprising Mushtaq Chhapra, Riaz Chinoy, Yunus Bengali, Aslam Khaliq, Shahid Abdulla, Yawar Jilani and Ms. Mahboob Khan here is much needed as they were instrumental in raising funds and laying the foundation for a mammoth project. The beautiful inner journey curated by Noor Johan Bilgrami with a team of artists deserves every credit for creating a world of magic at the pavilion. The genius of Shahid Abdulla is clearly visible as one walks through the pavilion.There were many moments of despair when the lockdowns hindered their work but the team continued to work in a troubled world.

As the structure was built Rashid Ranas genius in panels added a unique dimension to the pavilion. The changing hues of the structure can be seen from miles away and has attracted more than a million visitors.As many as twenty four thousand pieces that are seemingly identical, but all infact unique pieces, fractionally different from each other were used to create a fluid rhapsody of colors with the different phases of the sun during day. A beautiful piece of largest artwork that became a centerpiece of Expo 2020 Dubai.

For Pakistanis living abroad who had forgotten how the country had changed over the years it was almost reinventing their homeland. Nasir Malik’s enthralling production of the landscapes made every Pakistani proud of their country’s flora and fauna. Those not familiar with Pakistan got glimpses of what to expect if they visited a country with a glorious past, a fast paced present and a bright future ahead. The multitude of nationalities that visited the pavilion went back understanding a little more about a country that had been in news for many years for different reasons. The pavilion brilliantly succeeded in reinventing the image not only in the minds of those not familiar with Pakistan but also for Pakistanis living away from their country. The teams that worked relentlessly during lockdowns and in moments of despair created something wonderful for the world to see and delivered the message Pakistan is open to the world. The success of the pavilion is a proud moment for all the team members that made it all happen, no job is too small or too big when something beautiful is created.


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