Universes in Universe

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Concept note

By curator Tarek Abou El Fetouh

The conceptual framework of the Public Art Programme of Expo2020 Dubai takes inspiration from the famous Arab mathematician, astronomer, and physicist Ibn al Haytham's seminal work, "Book of Optics" (c. 11th century). Ibn al Haytham has been called "the father of modern optics", for his significant theories and foundational principles of optics and visual perception. The concept of the program provides a prism to view contemporary art creations and a context that allows an exploration of the philosophical aspect of Ibn al-Haytham's theories on visual perception, including his definitions of vision, recognition and the impossibility of envisioning a full picture of reality within oneself, without the power of imagination.

إدراك الصورة الكلية ، ُ متشكل في التخيل

Recognition of the full picture is formed in the imagination

Ibn al-Haytham argued that simply examining the visual aspects of what is seen does not definitely secure the reliability nor offer access to the true form of things. Perception is never complete without prior knowledge, comparative measures memory, and imagination. Our immediate perceptual experience of vision must be accompanied by the imagined, to be able to recognize the form of things.

Looking back at the history of the arts and its complex and rich connection with science and philosophy in this region during the historical peak of trade and intercultural relations beginning in the 9th century might assist us in re-thinking concepts and ideas that are pertinent to explore in the world today. For the classical is not simply past, nor merely handed over as present, but also comes to meet us in a future. Recalling Ibn al-Haytham today inspires us to understand the explanation of phenomena and the relation between the imagined and the perceived and explore the common among humans while understanding the cultural particulars. It may be that the only human capacity that helps us navigate diverse cultural particulars is the power of the imagination and the ability to grasp stories, however strange.

The Public Art Programme is designed to align with the ambitious plans of Expo2020's site that will be repurposed and developed into a two million square meter 'city' called District 2020 - creating a thriving community for the decades to come. Through the Programme, contemporary art will have an important place in the neighbourhood with eleven permanent public art works interwoven within the urban fabric of the district.

For the first time in the Middle East, a neighbourhood is planned with integrated permanent landmark contemporary art installations in the public space, created by visionary and leading local, regional and international artists. These will be points of attraction that will generate a narrative of concepts, ideas and aesthetics - a creative journey that sets the tone for the site of Expo 2020 and will become an essential part of the neighbourhood's innovative character within the urban fabric of Dubai.


© Text: Tarek Abou El Fetouh



From information by Expo 2020 Dubai Public Art Programme.

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