How PH pavilion became a hit at Expo 2020 Dubai

The mesh-framed Bangkota derived its name from the shape of a coral colony. It is symbolic of
the Filipino’s connectedness with the world, and the openness. The pavilion’s theme of man’s
interface with nature augurs well in the expo’s Sustainability District.

Call it strength in numbers. On the opening of the Expo 2020 Dubai last Oct. 1, the official start of the weekend in United Arab Emirates, 5,397 Filipinos came to support the Philippine pavilion.

Dubbed Bangkota, it is a garden-like installation, shaped like a coral colony, designed by Budji + Royal. Notwithstanding the humility of its materials—cyclone wire, cement and steel—it has been arguably the second most visited site next to the UAE’s Falcon Pavilion, replete with cantilevered wings, designed by Spanish “starchitect” Santiago Calatrava.

Bangkota’s fluid flow of space moves people from the outdoor sceneries to the indoor multimedia exhibitions and artworks. The music of National Artist Ramon Santos and the changing lighting design create an emotionally engaging experience.

“We opened as a blockbuster pavilion, and we’re deliriously happy with the results,” said Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Assistant Secretary Rosvi Gaetos in a phone interview. Wearing her other hat as Alternate Commissioner-

General of the Philippine Organizing Committee Philippines Expo 2020 Dubai, she will be posted in Dubai until April 2022, way after the closing ceremonies.

Business agenda

The pandemic-delayed Expo 2020 promotes innovation and new ideas through exhibits, meetings, business fora and cultural events under the theme “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future.” The world fair is divided into three themed districts—Sustainability of which the Philippines is a part of, Mobility and Opportunity.

Citing the country’s participation in Dubai, Gaetos explained, “The main objective of trade and investment is building the bilateral relationship between the Philippines and the UAE. When Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez comes in December, he will finalize an agreement with the UAE for investment, promotion and protection.”

The expo likewise presents an opportunity for the country to increase its export potential to UAE and to the overseas Filipino market. One of the main activities is a four-month Filipino food festival, which will be launched at Intercontinental Dubai Festival City on Dec. 7. A joint project with the Department of Tourism and the Tourism Promotions Board (TBP), the event enlists hotels and restaurants in promoting our cuisine. TBP chief operating officer Anthonette Allones helped in getting the budget.

The arts month of February will have the Ambassador’s Ball and a festival organized by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. Come March, there will be a GMA variety show and a Market Week that will feature Artefino, a movement that celebrates Filipino artisanship.

Patrick Cabral’s white boat sculpture “Vessel of Time” symbolizes the Filipinos’ Austronesian ancestors who were maritime people.

Experiential

Still, the country’s unique selling point at the expo has been Bangkota. “One of DTI’s priorities is to help creative industries. This pavilion has involved over 14 creative sectors. Aside from architecture, we have game development, animation, visual arts, food, history and culture, film, performing arts, etc. The creative industry is an economic force to contend with. Part of our objectives is to promote the Philippines as a highly creative nation,” said Gaetos.

Bangkota, designed by architect Royal Pineda, and its visual content, tailored by curator Marian Pastor Roces, has brought attention to Filipino arts and culture as valuable contributors to economic development.

The mesh-structure of Bangkota, named after the ancient Tagalog word for coral reef, and its interaction with the outdoors, is an imagery for the Filipino’s interface with nature and the traits of openness and connectivity. It’s an apt symbol of how Filipinos have spread out into the world like corals yet have kept ties with their countrymen. The artworks, multimedia installations, dance films and avant-garde music tell the evolution of the global Filipino.

Popular among the visitors for selfies is the golden helix, inscribed with names, created by B+C Design. It symbolizes the common DNA among Filipinos despite its cultural diversity.

Gaetos’ favorite part is the series of colorful flying men by Negrense artist Charlie Co. They represent overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) clutching their hearts as a sign of patriotism. Visitors will marvel at graffiti artist Dex Fernandez’s mural of OFWs that wraps around the curved borders on the second level.

Gaetos cited the circuitous ramp, the Imaginarium, as one of the most interesting parts of Bangkota. When the sweltering heat cools off by dusk, visitors on this ramp can view the overlapping art and landscaped spaces of Bangkota and vistas of the world fair from five levels. The climax of the ascent is National Artist Abdulmari Imao’s towering fiberglass trees and birds in flight on the fifth level.

“The general feeling is that visitors feel close to nature and close to the heavens. It’s exactly how Royal (Pineda) had envisioned it. Even construction workers and project managers of the other pavilions said the Philippine pavilion is different,” said Gaetos.

Charlie Co’s “Flying Men” pays homage to the Filipino OFWs as they clutch their hearts to pledge allegiance to the country.

‘Bayanihan’

Filipinos hankering for authentic cuisine dine at the Mangrove Café. The consultants, FilFoods and Siñeros, groups of Filipino chefs who work in UAE’s hospitality industry, put together a traditional menu using exclusively Filipino ingredients and food stuff from Mama Sita and San Miguel Corp. The menu consists of familiar foods— lumpia de Cebu, ukoy, tinapang bangus spread with cassava chips, chicken barbecue, kilawin and halo-halo. The restaurant is always packed.

Artisan products from the boutique have been flying off the shelves. The luxury fashion brand Marahuyo, which means “delight,” features Fil-Am designer Carol de Leon, who created apparel and accessories for the Middle East market. The high-end brand also presents filigree sculptural jewelry by Helena Alegre, Maria Angelica antique and classic jewelry, and Mele + Marie’s export-quality mesh minaudieres.

The affordable line, Go Lokal, highlights the creative group, Common Room, and its children’s wear.

Gaetos cited that the Filipino participation has made Bangkota shine amid challenges. When the government slashed the Expo 2020 budget, the supplier for landscaping, Lucille Ong, owner of the Dubai-based Al Shomoos Landscaping and Gardening LLC, compensated by donating plants and other materials. Couturier Ezra Santos, whose clients include Middle East royalty, happily worked with a meager budget to produce stylish uniforms for the Filipino staff at the pavilion.

“It’s amazing how the Filipinos came together to help us,” Gaetos said.

Although the Philippines wanted to target the international market, the delegation estimated that foreign visitor traffic would be low due to pandemic fears and restrictions. Expecting a meager turnout of a thousand visitors during the opening, DTI invited Filipino communities, hoping to fill up the place. However, it had no budget for their buses, refreshments and T-shirts to entice them. The bayanihan spirits of the Filipino Social Club, United Architects of the Philippines and Philippine Business Club drove them to produce T-shirts with the Bangkota logo and attend the pavilion launch in droves. The Philippine Business Club launched the campaign “I am Bangkota,” which went viral on social media, and a car inspired by Bangkota’s mascot Ube Boy.

Said Gaetos, “Life goes on in this pandemic as we try to make the most opportunities. Bangkota is a grand achievement for all of us. Royal (Pineda) and Marian (Roces) did a great job ,as with the contractors, suppliers, thousands of artists, skilled laborers and other talents in delivering the pavilion and its experience.”

—CONTRIBUTED

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