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The Expo 2020 Palestine Pavilion in Dubai takes visitors on a multi-sensory tour of Jerusalem
DUBAI: The Palestine Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai is as eye-catching as it is groundbreaking.
The pavilion, situated in a prime location along the main hall of the Opportunity District, may not have an ornate exterior, but its simple yet dignified design easily stands out, especially considering the geographic size and location. diplomatic status of Palestine.
With some of the expo’s largest pavilions nearby, including those of Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Egypt, the Palestinian Pavilion exudes an air of understated grandeur and sits close to the Al-Wasl Dome, which which gives it enviable visibility in the first world exhibition in the Arab world. .
Upon entering the pavilion, visitors are transported to an authentic Jerusalem street scene. Most guests experience the pavilion in small, guided groups of around 20 people, who are offered an informative, if sometimes crowded, tour of the pavilion exhibits.
Its stone tiled floors are an immediate focal point. The sand-colored stones are the same that pave the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem and were brought from Palestine to adorn the pavilion.
According to pavilion staff, some visitors take off their shoes and kneel on the stones to get as close as possible to land considered sacred by many.
Also paying homage to the city’s ancient architecture, modern replicas of its famous arcades, floor-to-ceiling shots of the quaint alleyways winding through the old town, and atmospheric soundscapes of the city’s soundscape.
The overall feel is immersive and alludes to the theme of the pavilion – seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting – creating an experience of Palestine that uses all five senses.
From the entrance, visitors follow a path lined with the same trellis and mashrabiya patterns that recall the balconies and doorways of houses in Jerusalem.
The back wall features an elevator and a remarkable panoramic image of the city, overlooking the buildings and the surrounding landscape.
From there, visitors enter the first exhibition: “See”. A brief video is shown, highlighting the natural beauty of rural Palestine, its industry, economy and welcoming culture. The video ends with an exhortation to create a “new perception of Palestine”.
From “See”, visitors move on to “Hear”. To amplify sensory perception, the “Hear” hallway is shrouded in darkness, with nothing on the walls but a few minimalist light patterns that help identify sounds emanating from the speakers.
Along the corridor are different sound bubbles. In one, there is a call to prayer, followed by the sound of church bells, evoking the closeness of the great religions to Jerusalem. In another, a poem about Palestine is recited in English and Arabic.
In a third, street noises predominate, with cars and people talking, bringing a typical Jerusalem street to life. In the last area, the sounds are traditional Palestinian musical instruments, including the oud.
Walking down the next hallway, visitors come to “Touch”. Again, as with “Hearing”, perceptions beyond the focal sense are limited. In this case, mysterious items are placed in hidden compartments inside white columns, stretching from floor to ceiling. Screens guide visitors through the process of smelling inside the column and guessing what the elements are inside.
In some cases, objects are emotionally charged. One is a large metal key, easily recognizable by touch. A screen informs the visitor that the key is the symbol of the dream of returning to abandoned homes in 1948, when nearly half of the Palestinian Arab population was exiled in an event known as the Nakba, or catastrophe. Many displaced families kept the keys to their homes in Palestine.
Another easily discernible shape is a multi-pointed star, symbolizing the star of the nativity. This star was found in 1717 in Bethlehem, and is said to mark the birthplace of Jesus Christ. A screen informs visitors that the Church of the Nativity was the first UNESCO World Heritage Site to be inscribed as ‘Palestine’.
Continuing down another hallway filled with mashrabiya shadows, visitors arrive at “Smell”. The smell of Palestine is represented through roses, sage, guava, oranges and olive oil soap. Each has a clay pot, which emits the fragrance, followed by a description of its meaning.
The roses, for example, represent the rose of Jericho, which wilts in the desert heat, but comes back to life with the first sign of humidity – a resilience considered synonymous with the people of Palestine.
Next is sage, or maramiya, a popular tea ingredient in Palestine, eaten after meals as a digestive aid. In the words of the pavilion, it is “a typical Palestinian pleasure”.
Olive oil soap, used in the region for millennia, is also on display, its strong, refreshing scent lingering in the nostrils as visitors move on to the next exhibit: “Taste.”
Surprisingly enough, there is nothing to eat in the Taste exhibit, although the pavilion cafe, Mamaesh, is nearby. Instead, images of succulent olives, lemons, rice, meat and spices are projected from above onto empty white plates on a table in the center of the room, while a short Footage of Palestinian cuisine is projected onto an adjacent wall.
The film features mouth-watering close-up shots of zaatar, falafel, and kunafa, while lingering on the people who make these dishes. Rather than simply focusing on the cuisine, the exhibit lets visitors taste the warmth and hospitality of Palestine.
Once visitors have experienced the five senses, they are brought into a room and given virtual reality headsets. In this immersive experience, the whole sensory experience comes together on a journey through Jerusalem’s main historical sites, from the Dome of the Rock to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Unlike many other Arab offerings at Expo 2020 Dubai, the Palestinian pavilion does not focus solely on the future, nor does it dwell excessively on the past. On the contrary, everything about the pavilion, especially the channeling of perception through the five senses, creates a sense of immediacy and connection.
Indeed, in the video of the pavilion’s “See” exhibition, a line refers to the “pulsation of the present”. A visit to the Palestinian pavilion creates a shared moment in the here and now, both unique and irreplaceable, just like Palestine itself.