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What do we really know about the World Expo? It’s an extravagant global exhibition that has been around for a long time. But did you know that it has given us the Eiffel Tower, the X-ray, the Ferris wheel, and even the matryoshka?

Since the first World Expo was held in London in 1851, picking up after the French national industry fair, the concept – which has been called many names including “Universal Exposition”, “World’s Fair”, and “The Expo” – has undergone certain changes.

Obviously, the expo is no longer the same event it was in the 19th century, but now its participant countries compete against one another not only to host the event but also to show their most cutting-edge innovations and their ability to be socially responsible.

As Dubai Expo 2020 draws closer, the fate of the following fair in 2025 will also soon be decided as the Bureau International des Expositions prepares to hold a vote on its host country at the General Assembly in November.

One of the competitors, bidding for 2025 for the second consecutive year, is the central city of the Russian Sverdlovsk region, Ekaterinburg, located just east of the Ural Mountains. Ranking among Russia’s largest and most prosperous cities, Ekaterinburg is proposing the construction of one of the largest sites for the fair yet.

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Picture: SUPPLIED

The Expo Park will be located within reach of the central district of the city with almost a city of its own for participants to explore. The site project includes an expo village with accommodation for the guests, recreational areas, restaurants, cinemas, a big expo arena, a business centre, a concert hall and numerous event venues.

The proposed venue for the World Expo will occupy an area of 555ha to welcome about 14m tourists and 147 participating countries – an estimate that also tops nearly all other expos held throughout the years. However, the project is not only limited to the expo site itself, but will also transform the city and the region for its inhabitants.

The local administration has already announced projects for expanding and improving transport infrastructure, which will include the construction of bridges and junctions, new roads and sidewalks, as well as a strategic project for establishing a high-speed rail network in the region, connecting Ekaterinburg with the neighbouring regional centre, Chelyabinsk.

After the fair, its “Smart City” venue project will be converted into a special economic zone, offering access to ready-made infrastructure to its residents, among other advantages. The project also involves the implementation of connected technologies to help monitor and manage municipal processes such as water and energy supply, traffic and parking, and pollution control.

Russia has been a participant in and contributor to the World Expo since its very inception. The many creations of its artists, sculptors, inventors and artisans feature in the top exhibit list and have come to symbolise the country they represent.

For instance, the matryoshka – the Russian folk-themed wooden nesting doll, which many mistake for an ancient Slavic toy – was actually crafted shortly before the expo in 1900, where it rose to fame. After that, the now famous babushka doll caught on so well that today most people would immediately think of it when asked to name the things they associate most with Russia.

Picture: SUPPLIED
Picture: SUPPLIED

That is why the organisers of the event in Ekaterinburg decided to use this exact doll to promote the World Expo and raise awareness of Russia’s participation in it.

The art campaign engaged Russian and foreign artists to illustrate their own vision of the doll on its life-size copies. The resulting 20 matryoshkas made up a palette of original art styles ranging from naive folk art to street art and even abstractionism. The pieces were put into pairs and spread across the world’s major cities, including Paris, London, Brussels, Buenos Aires, Dubai, Shanghai and Cape Town.

The differences between the two pieces exhibited in each city are often measured and intriguing. One of the two dolls on display in SA, for instance, was produced by the Russian artist Andrey Karpov, who creates inspiring art using primitive styles; the other was made by Claude Chandler, a local artist with a unique pattern-like style, using handmade foam stamps to create a vivid ombré effect.

Both pieces have a powerful message behind them, while their differences only serve to emphasise the idea of the link between the old and the new. This idea clearly reflects the concept of the World Expo proposed by Russia, which focuses on innovation for the benefit of future generations, while also addressing challenges associated with the implementation of technology.

Whether these and other issues will be addressed and Ekaterinburg chosen as host city is up to the Bureau International des Expositions General Assembly to decide.

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This article was paid for by Ekaterinburg World Expo 2025 (Bid Committee)