Dubai's Women's Pavilion Is A Celebration Of Women's Ingenuity And Strength –

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‘When women thrive, humanity thrives’
In an unassuming corner of Dubai’s Expo 2020 you will find magical things happening. This is not the Singapore pavilion, where dozens of hanging gardens and over 80,000 different plants greet visitors; nor is it Es Devlin’s glorious UK pavilion, a giant objet d’art featuring A-I generated poems. Instead, it is a delicate, jewellery-box like structure, which, when lit at night, looks like a desert lantern. This is The Women’s Pavilion in association with Cartier, the first of its kind at a World Fair, and dedicated to one thing: women.
Its presence at an expo that contains 191 pavilions, all of which are typically hosted by countries, is unusual. World Fairs are, after all, a celebration of global innovation: an opportunity for countries to showboat what they’ve got. The Women’s Pavilion therefore is making a very clear point: that the conversation about women still has a long way to go. The fact they have decided to have this conversation in the Middle East is, one imagines, also pertinent.
When it comes to ‘women’s issues’ (a terrible phrase, if ever there was one) Cartier has been beavering away behind the scenes for many years. Their Cartier Women’s Initiative is now in its fifteenth year during which time it has given away hundreds of thousands of pounds in grants to female entrepreneurs. There is also Cartier Philanthropy, the company’s philanthropic arm which supports largely female communities across lesser developed regions of the world. Cartier CEO Cyrille Vigneron meanwhile has been putting women in the top job across many of Cartier’s leading territories, including the USA and Japan, since his arrival in 2016.
The pavilion has become a labour of love therefore, not just for Cartier but for Vigneron himself. To that end they have spent close to four years drafting in some of the world’s most exciting creatives to help build it. The exterior is a joint project between interior architect Laura Gonzalez and calligraffiti artist, El Seed. Gonzalez created the intricate mashrabiya-inspired lattice work based on a woman’s vintage Cartier bracelet, while El Seed’s artwork covers the bottom of the building. As you step inside you are greeted by a deeply moving 20-minute documentary created by Oscar-nominated director, Nadine Labaki, which charts young female activists across the world (and one little boy who is transforming Liberia almost single-handedly). French actress, Melanie Laurent meanwhile has gone one step further, making an ambitious VR installation, literally throwing users into other women’s’ lives.
But it’s the simple documentation of incredible yet largely unknown women that line the walls that is perhaps most touching. These are stories of women doing great things, often in spite of little to work with. Did you know that the first university was created by a Muslim woman from Tunisia called Fatima al-Fihri? Or that in India a young woman is helping young girls remain in the education system, by creating sanitary pads out of banana leaves. (India has a notoriously high rate of young women dropping out of school once they hit puberty). Their simple stories have the power to move because many of these women are outside our western peripheral vision. They are not the female leaders ‘smashing it’ at boardroom level. They are the women making a difference in their own communities, in any way they can. They are without the momentum that 4th wave feminism has afforded many of us in the west. And yet they are fighting and hustling regardless.
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The pavilion will stand for six months, and in that time, it is hoped it will not only host thousands of visitors, many of whom will be school children from the UAE but also play host to dignitaries and leading lights of the women’s movement for collaborative, at perhaps at times, challenging, conversations.
It’s fitting that as you leave the pavilion and look back again at the entrance, the eagle-eyed will notice a wall composed entirely out of wooden blocks. Many will walk past it, but the truly curious will notice that on closer inspection it has, concealed within in, a message: When women thrive, humanity thrives, it reads. Let it be a message and a reminder to the thousands who will pass through Expo 2020 over the next six months.
EXPO 2020 will run until March 31, 2022


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