8 September 2021

Cultures in Conversation at Expo 2020

Alserkal Advisory


It’s been a long summer for anyone who has been working on what we endearingly call CIC, formally known as Cultures in Conversation. In fact, we’ve had the honour of working on it for much longer. Cultures in Conversation received so much of our creative and programming attention because it is a once-in-a-lifetime project: there will never be another Expo 2020; the planet and its people are at a crucial inflection point on many fronts; and never has the need for breakthrough thinking, reimagined approaches, and genuinely change-driven voices been so acute.

So, what is Cultures in Conversation?

Commissioned by Expo2020 and programmed by Alserkal, Cultures in Conversation consists of ten theme weeks of events and interventions that challenge the typical ‘talks’ format. Multi-disciplinary and cross-cultural, the programme unites people who are normally unlikely to even be in the same room—poets, diplomats, theorists, artists, environmental agents of change, academics. Part of Expo’s wider series entitled Programme for People and Planet (PPP), Cultures in Conversation is less about global leaders owning top-down conversation, and more an opportunity for diverse people from around the world to unite, take ownership of a programme, and re-think global issues that have become excruciatingly urgent.

Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal, Founder of Alserkal, said: “At Alserkal we share Expo 2020’s commitment to sustainable innovation and providing a platform for global exchange. Expo 2020 Dubai is a historic moment uniting the world and drawing attention to today’s challenges while imagining ambitious solutions. Alserkal is proud to help shape thinking around these urgent issues."

Nadia Verjee, Chief of Staff, Programme for People and Planet, Expo 2020 Dubai, added: “An integral part of the Programme for People and Planet focuses on the power of cultural exchange. We believe that intercultural dialogue is key to breaking down boundaries between people, creating better informed individuals who see connections between people and cultures of the world, rather than divisions. As one of the most forward-thinking and established home-grown cultural initiatives in Dubai, Alserkal is perfectly placed to help us achieve this, and we can’t wait for visitors to take part in the Cultures in Conversation series.”

Cultures in Conversation, commissioned by Expo 2020 Dubai, programmed by Alserkal

Spend even a short time with the minds behind Programme for People and Planet and you’ll immediately feel their commitment to creating a social movement from the ground up. While we certainly saw this spirit in the inaugural Sharjah Architectural Triennial’s Rights for Future Generations (November 2019- February 2020), Expo 2020 seems intent on identifying and cultivating agents of change who will be become standard bearers of the event’s broader promise to ‘create a better tomorrow.’ The programming reinforces the marketing promise: it signposts avenues of thought and proposes concrete means of engagement.

A rigorous approach

Cultures in Conversation is emblematic of Alserkal Advisory’s approach to cultural production: it is rigorous, galvanises practitioners from across disciplines and cultures, and consistently challenges and diversifies conventional formats in the name of context- and audience-specificity. For Cultures in Conversation, immersive experiences, artist interventions, informal conversations, and performances are programming pillars. Participants include Charles Landry, Lumumba Di-Aping, Nujoom Al-Ghanem, Mary Ellen Carroll, 3 137, and the Engage 101 collective, among others.

Vilma Jurkute, Executive Director of Alserkal comments: “At the heart of Alserkal and Alserkal Advisory we challenge conventional business practices and craft audience-specific public programmes that resonate with our communities while assessing our impact on society, the environment, and local economies. Through partnering with Expo 2020 to conceptualise Cultures in Conversation we have thoughtfully brought some of the world’s leading thinkers from multiple disciplines together to address and reimagine critical contemporary issues in a world of Anthropocene. Cultures in Conversation allows for a meta-narrative that offers reflection, awareness, and re-envisioned approaches, as a result engendering new forms of knowledge, activating social discourse, and shaping borderless communities on a collaborative Expo stage.”

Cultures in Conversation is Alserkal Advisory’s first project with Expo 2020 Dubai. We are proud to help shape meaningful conversations with minds who can make a difference.

Full Cultures in Conversation programme:

9 October | 1pm

Climate and Biodiversity Week

Climate change in the classroom, living room, street and beyond

We live at the epicentre of an ecological catastrophe with unimaginable consequences. Yet, there has to emerge a global organic consciousness and a genuine global political will and consensus to advance the agenda for a true transformative pathway and architecture, in the service of humanity and the entire human family. Our task is to highlight the urgency for the need to acknowledge the inseparability of biodiversity and climate change, and the existence of a body of knowledge that can pave the way to avoid devastation and calamities across the world. Our dialogue is aimed at underlining the existence of this nascent and marginalised organic consciousness, its moral vitality, its political-economic essence, and the necessity for climate justice, equality, and equity worldwide.

Participants: Ambassador Lumumba Di-Aping, Wilf Speller, Lara Rudar, Alla Semenovskaya, Elena Valera

*Seating is limited and we are currently at capacity for 9 October. If you have an Expo ticket, please feel free to come along and if there are any cancellations we would be happy to have you join the session.

23 October | 5pm

Space Week

Never Be Lost: Learn to Read the Stars

This programme considers the cultural imagination of the celestial and how important systems of knowledge have been passed down through literature, memory, and oral narratives, continuing to hold meaning as we imagine space futures.

Participants: Nujoom Alghanem, Duane Hamacher, Mashhoor Ahmad Al Wardat, Rangi Mātāmua

6 November | 1pm

Urban and Rural Development

What Makes a City: Dimensions of culture and possibility of community

The invisible ties that bind urban communities together become visible in the construction and use of shared public spaces. This event will explore how these spaces are used, claimed, co-opted and transformed, and how citizens contribute to building a city.

Participants: Charles Landry, Bard Studio, Civil Architecture, Stephen Hobbs

20 November | 4pm

Tolerance and Inclusivity

Openness and the Path to Prosperity

Kinship, belonging, exchange, and acceptance are cornerstones of the UAE identity, harking back to ancient times. Today, our social glue is strained by an increasingly polarised world, yet national initiatives to foster belonging and sustain communities abound. Looking back through UAE history—from the early initiatives to initiate education and articulate culture to recent inclusion-driven policy—we see that this openness is not the by-product of statecraft, but rather has been hardwired into our culture for millennia.

This intimate and engaging conversation unites two prominent UAE voices in diplomacy, culture, and education. Their thoughts connect the dots between our history and today’s society with tolerance at its core.

Participants: H.E. Dr. Zaki Nusseibeh, H.E. Noura Bint Mohammed Al Kaabi, Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal, Myrna Ayad, Danabelle Gutierrez

Hosted by UAE Pavilion

18 December | 2pm & 4pm

Knowledge and Learning

The Everywhere Classroom

The Everywhere Classroom is an immersive multi-experience performance centred around learning via play. Audience members choose from a handful of possible “subjects” upon arrival, school bells mark starts and ends, punctuating timeline and the exercises within each subject. The audience participates in exercises prompted by the performers, together they “add to the story” and thus change its outcomes.

Theatrical and didactic, this performance will make “the classroom” the protagonist, and invites the audience to choose, react to, and explore its subjects. Every audience member leaves with their own story of the experience.

Participants: Engage 101

15 January | Travel and Connectivity

A Cloud is Nobody’s

Conceptual Artist Mary Ellen Carroll will be in conversation with AI ethicist Renee Cummings to discuss the ethical imagination (EI®), travel, and AI. Combining new systems of exchange and value, the ubiquity of the blockchain and its application for collective decision making as well as sovereign-less currencies also expands the notion of travel. This can be seen in VR and AR and more recently and importantly in the space of mixed reality (MR). MR proffers a place where the virtual and the real interact to create locations where it is possible to travel in time and space, while remaining in the same place. Carroll and Cummings will engage in these topics with a media presentation that exemplifies the innovation and its uses and the ethical questions that are world considerations that begin in the cultural realm and amplify into other sectors.

22 January | Global Goals

The wider the vision, the narrower the phrase

Through a commissioned performance, we ask: how can culture interpret the Global Goals for citizens of the world that are at Expo? We invite cultural practitioners to radically challenge the conversation and allow for artistic interpretations of these inspirational objectives.

29 January | Health & Wellness

Slowing down as an antidote

This programme invites curators and cultural practitioners to engage in an informal conversation, which will investigate urgent questions surrounding notions of care, collectivity, and solidarity.

26 February | Food, Agriculture & Livelihoods

Key Ingredients

Bringing a playful approach to the intrinsic link between food and culture, this programme invites local, regional, and international artists, chefs, researchers, scientists, and curators to share their stories.

26 March | Water

The Silencing of Water

Cultural connections and knowledge were forged through maritime trade over centuries, shaping our cultural identities and belief systems. In this event we explore what can be learnt from the respect that our ancestors had for the elixir of life and how the past connects with the water crises and water conflicts we face today

*Alserkal Advisory is an independent multi-disciplinary practice of thinkers, researchers, and specialists covering diverse fields and multiple geographies, embracing a mindful approach to reimagining cultural destinations and crafting audience-specific public programmes.

Visual Hunger
Artist Sondos Azzam explores the underbelly of our gastronomic longings
In Her Country
A series of portraits attempting to examine the relationship between a woman and her practice
Spoons Out of Water
What is sacred to the dining table is reduced to its form and colour in this photo series by Sondos Azzam
Fruit Scans
A photo series that challenges our perception of food by distorting the familiar
Abandoned: When a Crisis Allows Nature Back In
Series of photographs documenting the impacts of continual human manipulation of the UAE's natural landscapes
How our urban environment shapes nature and our individual activities within these spaces
Precarious Existence
The Magnum Foundation commissioned these images of Dubai residents hit hardest by the pandemic
A Force To Reckon With: Manal Aldowayan
A conversation with one of Saudi Arabia's most significant artists about her evolving methodologies, the shifting significance of her work, and the thought behind her practice
Architecture Meets Nature: While We Wait
A conversation with award-winning designers Yousef and Elias Anastas about their latest installation piece, While We Wait.
Alserkal Avenue | The First Decade (Part 2)
A conversation with the creative visionaries and cultural entrepreneurs who have partnered with Alserkal Avenue over the past decade.
Alserkal Avenue | The First Decade (Part 1)
A conversation with the creative visionaries and cultural entrepreneurs who have partnered with Alserkal Avenue over the past decade.
Turning The Spotlight On UAE-Based Emerging Artists
A conversation with UAE Unlimited Executive Director Shobha Shamdsani
Humanity as Refuge II
A conversation with Fabric(ated) Fractures curator Diana Campbell Betancourt and participating artists
Humanity as Refuge I
A conversation with Fabric(ated) Fractures curator Diana Campbell Betancourt and participating artists
Hassan Hajjaj: Carte Blanche
Fari Bradley in conversation with Hassan Hajjaj prior to his show at Paris’s Maison Européenne de la Photographie
Soothing the Soothsayers
A conversation with arts writer Kevin Jones, curator of the Foretold Now summer programme
What is the role of the artist in society?
In the context of shifting definitions surrounding the role that the artist plays in nation building and place-making, Stephen Hobbs (Director of Johannesburg’s The Trinity Session) and Laila Binbrek (Coordinating Director of the National Pavilion UAE la Biennale di Venezia) unpack insights that reflect on current trends and possible futures.
Alserkal Insider | Nightjar Coffee Roasters with Leon Surynt
We went to Nightjar for coffee but found Leon.
Cultures in Conversation | Never Be Lost: Learn to Read the Stars
The cultural imagination of the celestial and how important systems of knowledge have been passed down through literature, memory, and oral narratives, continuing to hold meaning as we imagine space futures.
Cultures in Conversation | Climate change in the classroom, living room, street and beyond
We live at the epicentre of an ecological catastrophe with unimaginable consequences.
Concrete Closed Sessions: Danabelle Gutierrez and Charlie119
Filipino poet Danabelle Gutierrez collaborates with all-sibling band Charlie119 on an improvisational performance of poetry.
Concrete Closed Sessions: Inam & Friends
A musical gathering around Qawwali music
Safina Radio Project: Venice
From 6-8 May 2015, Alserkal created an itinerant space on the waterways of Venice
"Under": A Video Documentation
Under is Hale Tenger’s first major public work in Dubai commissioned by Alserkal, guest curated by Mari Spirito of Protocinema
While We Wait
An immersive installation by Bethlehem-based architects about the cultural claim over nature in Palestine
Adapt to Survive: Notes from the Future
Curator Dr. Cliff Lauson and artist Youmna Chlala discuss the need of adaptation for survival
Noria: Circulation Of People In Systems
Investigating how societies influence and mould us through systems of social politics, particularly in South Korea
When the Band Comes Marching In
A work by Block Universe, supported by Alserkal, questions the power structures of the Venice Biennale
Curriculum II
The follow-up to 2020's Introductory Curriculum for Reparations revealed
Echo Holdings x Synthanatos
This edition of Echo Holdings, artist Isaac Sullivan’s context-shifting series of hybrid live sets and collaborative lecture performances, features vocals by independent researcher Dana Dawud and takes up a machinic sense of the psychoanalytic death drive. Here, an uncanny ambiguity between recorded and live speech, and a seemingly infinite field of images within images, produces an ecstatic blurring of presence and asynchrony as we negotiate a sonic palette alternately sparkling and ragged.
Dayanita Singh in Conversation
Dayanita Singh discusses her body of work with curator Nada Raza
Happy National Day
Happy National Day to our home, the UAE! Marking its Jubilee with 50 years of incredible achievements, and looking towards the next 50, we commissioned artist Bayan Dahdah to create a piece to mark this momentous occasion.
Hair Mapping Body; Body Mapping Land
Hair Mapping Body; Body Mapping Land, an exhibition at ICD Brookfield Place from 10 November to 19 December 2021, Programmed by Alserkal Advisory
Cultures in Conversation Blog
Reflections on Cultures in Conversation, a programme Commissioned by Expo2020 and programmed by Alserkal that consists of ten theme weeks of events and interventions that challenge the typical ‘talks’ format.
Rewilding the Kitchen | Mastic Fizz by Salma Serry
Curator and artist Nahla Al Tabbaa converses with filmmaker and interdisciplinary foodways researcher Salma Serry about Mastic and its connections to UAE's history
Who Owns Yoga?
The warrior poses and sun salutations practiced in yoga studios around the world aren’t mentioned in any ancient yoga text. If that disconnect is a direct result of colonial influences, should we feel anxious about the authenticity of our modern yoga practices?
The Tower by Wilf Speller
Compiled entirely out of footage appropriated from luxury real estate advertisements
The Suffering Body
Part two of a curatorial narrative around the absent, suffering and technological body in contemporary works by GCC-based artists
August Observations
Personal archives are fraught sites filled with memories and stories that drag us into the past. How does a writer respond to a letter he receives years after it is written? The result is an exploration of the gaps and elisions laid bare by forgotten memories and unspoken sentiments.
Rewilding the Kitchen | Recipe No. 1 | Barri by Namliyeh
Curator and artist Nahla Al Tabbaa savours unlearning traditional food narratives with ethnobotanists Namliyeh
The Wedding Project
An online / offline audiovisual trail of celebratory wedding music
Cultures in Conversation at Expo 2020
Shaping New Thinking on Burning Issues - Programmed by Alserkal, commissioned by Expo 2020 Dubai, Cultures in Conversation challenges the conventional talks programme with artist interventions, immersive experiences, and new thinking on critical challenges
On Emirati Women
An insight into the practices of Emirati women challenging notions within their professional fields
The Alserkal Ecology Reader | Three Lectures on Architecture and Landscape in the Gulf
The Alserkal Ecology Reader is a compilation of three lectures held in 2018 and 2019 in relation to Civil Architecture’s residency at Alserkal Arts Foundation. These three lectures form a summary of on-going issues in the discipline and are intended to be a loose primer for architects in the Gulf.
The Absent Body
Mapping disembodiment and performativity among GCC artists
Three Conversation Pieces III
As India continues to find its bearings amidst COVID tumult, Aveek Sen explores how his own conversations have become at once more vital, yet oddly unfamiliar
An Incomplete History of UAE Cinemas, Part 2
In Part 2 of her Incomplete History, Mezaina explores the rise of the multiplex model, film festivals, and the creation of alternative viewing spaces in the 2000s.
Design as a Wrapper
Designer and educator Zena Adhami explores the dangers of assumptions when designing for communities
Three Conversation Pieces II
As India continues to find its bearings amidst COVID tumult, Aveek Sen explores how his own conversations have become at once more vital, yet oddly unfamiliar
Engaging Audiences
Muscat-based artist Majeda Alhinai considers how viewers become part of artworks
Three Conversation Pieces I
As India continues to find its bearings amidst COVID tumult, Aveek Sen explores how his own conversations have become at once more vital, yet oddly unfamiliar
Every day I wake up and...
A chronicle of daily conversations with artists Sandi Hilal
Ways of Seeing
Palestinian artist Samia Halaby's approach to painting reveals her precise complex process, astute peripheral sensibilities, and why abstraction is the only movement left unexploited.
An Introductory Curriculum for Reparations
An informational response by our community on the Black Lives Matter Movement
The Africa Connection
As the global art world shines a light on Africa, Rebecca Anne Proctor writes on the growing dialogue between the Middle East and Africa
Chaos, Love, and Enigmas
Malaysian artist Hasanul Isyraf Idris tackles his homeland’s multiculturalism through densely populated compositions that engage episodic memory, manifested by mythological through to Sci-Fi imagery
The First Collectors
The role of the artist in relation to collecting is reconsidered
Q&A: Hale Tenger And Mari Spirito
'Under' is Hale Tenger's first major commission in almost a decade, on view at The Yard in 2018
Re-Examining The Role Of The Museum In Society
The 2017 CiMAM Annual Conference brought together museum professionals from around the world to re-evaluate the public functions of museums.
Living Under The Net
Hale Tenger's 'Under' asks us what beliefs we accept without question and what our potential could be without such self-imposed restrictions.
Slippery Modernism
A review of Building Bauhaus, Jean-Paul Najar Foundation’s tribute to the German art school’s centenary – with a regional twist.
A Modern History
Nancy Lorenz’s exhibition 'Silver Moon' at Leila Heller Gallery presents a complex craft-meets-contemporary body of work that references Japanese tradition and Abstract Expressionism
Is This Tomorrow?
Whitechapel Gallery curator Lydia Yee explores the works of five pairings of artists and architects
The Making of a Ruin
A public art commission by the artist collective METASITU welcomed visitors to a post-apocalyptic ruin
Hydrogen Helium
A sound installation first realised in a residency at Alserkal Arts Foundation
The Fabric of Fractures
Exploring ‘sensitive spaces' that challenge ideas of nation, state, and territory
Fabric(ated) Fractures
A collaboration with Samdani Art Foundation, challenging ideas of nation, state, and territory
How Will We Return?
Dialogues between cultural practitioners & scholars from the Alserkal Arts Foundation network
Collaborative Co-existence
A six-week series screenings, workshops, performances, and exhibitions around the theme of maintenance
Connecting Syria to the World
Director Shireen Atassi expands on Atassi Foundation efforts
Mohamed Melehi And The Casablanca Art School Archives
Works by major figure in postcolonial Moroccan art showcased at Concrete
Will the Fashion Industry Ever Truly Be Sustainable?
Founder of clothing brand One and Four speaks about sustainable practices
Why Institutions Now
What contemporary arts institutions might become in the future
A Letter
Micro-fiction by Amrita Shergar to inaugurate's new showcase for creative writing
Connecting Cultures Through Contemporary Art
Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi shares her thoughts on curating the second edition of the Lahore Biennale
One-on-One with Nabila Abdel Nabi
A conversation with Nabila Abdel Nabi, Tate Modern's first MENA curator
Mystical Warriors
The works in Reza Derakshani’s latest show at Leila Heller Gallery reveal the mystical connections between the artist’s time in Russia, and the forgotten tales and symbolism of his Iranian heritage
Is This Tomorrow? Art vs Architecture
Architecture and arts writers experience the show from their own perspectives
At the Confluence of Art and Industry
Architect, designer, and writer Edwin Heathcote reflects on Concrete’s significance
Poetry In Motion
Nujoom Al Ghanem fuses poetry and filmmaking for 'Passages', a reflection on the universal experience of displacement and alienation. The Emirati poet and director speaks to Melissa Gronlund about her solo presentation for the National Pavilion UAE at the 58th Venice Biennale
The Lighthouse Podcast x Vilma Jurkute
Alserkal's Executive Director Vilma Jurkute sat down with Hashem Montasser, creator of The Lighthouse Podcast, to share her experience in developing Alserkal Avenue as the leading arts & culture district in the region.
Cape Town: A New Capital for Art
The eighth edition of Investec Cape Town Art Fair took place in February against an uneasy socio-economic backdrop — concluding in solid sales, and a newfound zeal for multiculturalism.
METASITU in conversation with Ghada Yaiche
Artist collective in discussion with an architect on urban and ruin
Drone Go Chasing Waterfalls
Thoughts on Stephanie Comilang’s film Lumapit Sa Akin, Paraiso (Come to Me, Paradise)
An Incomplete History of UAE Cinemas, Part 1
In Part 1, Dubai-based writer Mezaina examines independent cinemas pre-multiplex days
The Overseas Filipino Artist
Fresh insights on Filipino artists in Dubai through the lens of Sa Tahanan Collective founder
An Artistic Meditation
On Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim’s practice, about the mind, its subconscious and space.