Photo: Mahwash Rehman

For artist Rashid Rana, the Pakistan Pavilion facade represents the country's diversity

He was given the task of transforming architecture into artwork and he did it with style.
16 Oct, 2021

When it comes to art and representing Pakistan these days, there's little on everyone's lips other than the Pakistan Pavilion at the Dubai Expo 2020. And that pavilion is represented quite exclusively on social media by one thing — the spectacular facade created by artist Rashid Rana.

Rana is the recipient of the 2017 Asia Art Award by the Asia Society and the Sitara-e-Imtiaz. His works are housed in prestigious collections including the British Museum in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

"I was given the goal of transforming architecture into an art work," Rana told Images. The facade he created encapsulates the Pakistan Pavilion and all the other exhibits inside and is the first thing people see. It's also what most people are posting pictures of online.

"It takes after the seasonal transitions in Pakistan and diversity it has to offer — geographically, climatically, culturally, ethnically and racially. The drama, flow and the transition between colours amplify this diversity and, highlights Pakistan as a prime destination for opportunity and unique experiences."

Photo: Uzair Faruqui
Photo: Uzair Faruqui

The artistic intervention — it's not a design, we are told — is titled 'Unity of All That Appears' and melds together 24,000 seemingly identical but entirely unique panels; each fractionally different from the adjacent ones in terms of size and colour.

"The difference is not visible to the naked eye when you are comparing adjacent panels but it becomes apparent as you view it from distance. Therefore, in a subtle way this artistic intervention conveys the ability of the country to unify yet preserve the freedom of the diverse groups. It embodies the future of Pakistan by creating new trajectories."

The intervention features a rainbow of colours and, according to the artist, is mainly made of aluminium composite panels, with half the surface in reflective finish while the rest is printed material.

Though Rana has been involved in the project for almost three years, taking into account the pandemic and virtual coordination, the actual fabrication and on ground installation took place in the last four months.

That the work was on a much grander scale than his other installations was an exciting challenge for Rana. "I have to admit that scale does inspire me," he said. "Working during a global pandemic, maintaining uninterrupted communication and understanding between the studio team and the team on the site could be a challenge, but in the past 15 years my art practice has evolved in such way that it involves conceiving works digitally in Pakistan or wherever I am, fabricated in various parts of the world through remote communications and then exhibited elsewhere. The pandemic has made me even more adaptable."

His team members and the stakeholder all gave their best to ensure that his vision came to life, said the artist.

If you're familiar with Rana's previous work, you know he often plays with photographs and images in his pieces but that's not the case in his intervention at the Pakistan Pavilion. "Initially, the proposed idea was to draw from my practice as a visual artist, in which photograph/image installations dominate," he explained.

Rashid Rana with his work 'Desperately Seeking Paradise' — Photo: Vipul Sangoi
Rashid Rana with his work 'Desperately Seeking Paradise' — Photo: Vipul Sangoi

"However, the constructed structure called for a new and innovative intervention, one which makes the pavilion lighter in weight but maintains the magnitude and stands out."

And while he has long been the subject of praise for his work, the praise he's receiving for the pavilion hits differently. "I have exhibited globally and it’s always nice to see people appreciate my work, but this feeling of representing the people and making them feel proud in what I create is entirely different — it is a proud yet overwhelming feeling," Rana explained.

"The intervention presents a way forward; an optimistic way that allows its people to think a fresh and create new legacies rather than indulging in the past or necessarily following the footsteps of developed countries."

The Dubai Expo opened to the public on October 1 and will continue till March 31, 2022.

Cover photo by Mahwash Rehman