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Talented young Kiwis speak to the world at Expo 2020 Dubai – Stuff

As Kiwis grappled with back-to-back lockdowns and border closures at the height of the global pandemic, some of our most outstanding young artists, performers and entrepreneurs were invited to the Middle East to showcase their talents on a global stage at World Expo.
Delayed by one year due to the pandemic, Expo 2020 was built from scratch on a 438-hectare site in the middle of the desert, on the outskirts of Dubai. From October 1, 2021, to March 31, 2022, Expo Dubai has welcomed 192 participating countries and more than 20 million visitors.
1.2 million of these visited New Zealand’s pavilion in Expo’s sustainability district, where a line-up of youth-focused musical performances in January was curated by Parris Goebel. The five-time world hip hop dance champion and choreographer for the likes of Rihanna and Justin Bieber created and produced Voice of Youth-Wonderland exclusively for Expo, handpicking talented 16–18-year-old Kiwis at live auditions conducted across New Zealand.
One such talent was 18-year-old singer-songwriter Zoe Hunter from Christchurch. Performing from a young age in her local church, she has since released her own songs on Spotify.
"I heard the name Parris Goebel and knew this show was going to be a big deal," Hunter says. "I was asked to sing acapella. It was so nerve-wracking! I got the call one month later to say I’d been picked to sing at Expo. It was the experience of a lifetime and we put on a world-class show."
Performing at Expo in Dubai was "crazy", Hunter says: "I felt so proud and motivated to perform for this country, and to represent the younger generation. It was so cool to join with people from all cultures and backgrounds to perform on the other side of the world. I also learned how important it is for everyone to have a community and a team to journey with."
Hunter performed a solo piece called Reflection. "The intention was to bring confidence to our younger generation, and inspire us to be who we want, not who someone expects us to be."
The production Wonderland had something for everyone, Goebel said: "From mesmerising Kapa Haka performances and world-renowned dance crews to dynamic street art installations and live music, we showcased that New Zealand is a nation of strong and innovative people."
Themed kaitiakitanga, the New Zealand pavilion celebrated the Māori ethos of ‘Care for People and Place’ and our deep connection with nature. This was inspired by the Whanganui River, which became the world’s first river to be recognised at law as a legal person in 2017, called Te Awa Tupua.
Two sustainable Kiwi brands that aligned with New Zealand’s Expo theme are run by 18-year-old Kiwi students Max Donaldson and Robert Donohoe, Abby Green and Alex Livingstone. The young entrepreneurs launched their respective companies GreenKiwi Supplements and Abalro Health in 2020. Both winners of the New Zealand at Expo 2020 and Young Enterprise Scheme (YES)’s Global Kaitiakitanga Project, with the prize a trip to the World Expo in Dubai to
Abalro’s raw barberry powder provides a natural and effective solution for acne, while Donaldson created the first New Zealand-grown olive leaf immunity supplement.
During their live interview on Dubai One television station, Donaldson said it was "amazing" to be showcasing his product in the Middle East: "We are so lucky to be given this opportunity by NZTE, the Young Enterprise Scheme and World Expo. It doesn’t get much better than that."
Five street artists were invited to collaborate on a 20-metre mural at Expo. One of these, 21-year-old Eva Fuemana says street art, graffiti and the creative arts are inherent to the culture of Aotearoa, going back to carving maihi on wooden boards to welcome visitors to the Māori marae.
"It’s been a huge part of people’s lives [in New Zealand] and a way to communicate since the 80s," says the artist of Māori and Niuean descent. "Drive down the southern motorway, or through places like Avondale, where hundreds of walls are painted to celebrate culture and bring colour to the area. You’ll find incredible works all through central Auckland that have been there for decades."
Being at Expo 2020 motivated Fuemana to pursue her dream of becoming a full-time artist: "It felt surreal to paint in the live art event and getting to leave our mural behind for people in Dubai to enjoy further at the Sikka Art Festival was literally a dream come true."
The experience also opened doors for Samoan artist John Crouch: "I’ve since been commissioned to do a live painting for the ASB Polyfest 2022, and work with the Red Cross team. The art we created at Expo was astounding. It made me so proud."
Both Fuemana and Crouch were blown away by the wealth of culture in Dubai.
"People from all walks of life were visiting us, speaking languages I had never heard before," Fuemana says. "But they were all sharing the same joy of seeing a giant art piece come alive."
Defined by an immersive storytelling river room and its restaurant Tiaki, the New Zealand pavilion’s kinetic façade, made from Kaynemaile architectural mesh, was designed to simulate nature’s pulse.
New Zealand’s Commissioner General for Expo 2020 Dubai, Clayton Kimpton, said that Expo had provided an engaging and inspirational platform for New Zealanders to speak to the world.
Find out more about New Zealand’s participation at Expo 2020 Dubai here New Zealand at Expo 2020 Dubai – Care for People and Place or view the NZ Pavillion virtually here nzpavilionvirtualtour.co.nz.
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