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Beacons of distinction

China Daily USA | Updated: 2018-09-29 02:29
Juan Carlos Diaz Vasquez

The stories behind three of the foreigners who were conferred the Shanghai Magnolia Silver Award this year, Alywin Chew reports

A Spaniard's quest for excellence in a city that embodies it

When Juan Carlos Diaz Vasquez was a child, he aspired to become an archaeologist who could unravel the mysteries of the world.

The work he does today could be considered vaguely similar, though it does not involve searching for ancient relics or mummified remains of pharaohs. Rather, what this creative specialist in themed showcases unearths are facts from the past which he presents in innovative, eye-catching ways in exhibitions around the world.

One of these exhibitions takes the form of the Shanghai World Expo Museum, the world's first museum which documents the history of such expos since London's Great Exhibition in 1851.

Officially opened in May 2017, the Shanghai World Expo Museum was a result of a collaboration between the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) and the Shanghai municipal government.

As creative director of the museum's historic section, Vasquez is responsible for all design matters from start to finish, including crafting the philosophy and vision of the space, writing the content plan and supervising the production and installation of the contents.

The chance to work on this project, which the Spaniard ranks among his most memorable, came in 2013 when he took up an offer by BIE to develop the creative concept for the facility. Having been fascinated with Chinese culture for many years, Vasquez jumped at the opportunity.

"My training as an art historian means I feel especially drawn towards Chinese art and culture. I have been very impressed by many of the facilities in the city, including the Shanghai Museum, the Long Museum, the Art West Bund and the Shanghai History Museum," he said.

"In 1984 I visited an exhibition called 7,000 years of China in Venice which left a huge impression on me. It was the first time I saw the terracotta warriors and the jade burial suit which is now in the National Museum in Beijing. Working in Shanghai more than 30 years later is like rediscovering that incredible, revelatory experience," he added.

Because of his job, Vasquez has traveled to Shanghai and other parts of China more than a dozen times over the past five years and has as such gained a keen understanding and appreciation for the country's museums and exhibitions.

He noted that China has since the 2010 World Expo, which was held in Shanghai, demonstrated that it is capable of creating "new technology, equipment, museums and exhibitions that lay the foundations for a cultural offering par excellence".

This quality of the city, he added, also reflects his values to life and work, which suggests why he managed to win the prestigious Magnolia Award.

"What drives me in my career is excellence. Every project becomes my entire life and I put the very best of myself into each one," he said.

"My maxim is to do everything as well as it possibly can be. I thrive on overcoming the challenges that arise as well as meeting, and exceeding, the expectations of those who put their trust in me to carry out the projects."

Another reason why he's happy to continue returning is due to his fascination of the city.

"I like Shanghai's capacity to surprise, its continuous pulse, its cosmopolitan nature and its contrasts. In Europe, there is a great fascination about Shanghai as it symbolizes modernity and the future. When I came in 2013, the skyline made me feel as if I'd arrived in the future. All that was missing were the flying cars," he quipped.

"But when you travel around the city you begin to see all these contrasts between the new and the old and I think that's even more fascinating because you can see the true spirit of the city. I hope China will work hard to maintain this spirit."

For his contributions to the Shanghai World Expo Museum, the Spaniard was on Sept 12 conferred the Magnolia Silver Award.

"This award fills me with happiness. This is the first time I've won an award since I was six years old!" he laughed.

"It's a great honor and I'm incredibly grateful to everyone who has been involved with the World Expo Museum. The award is shared with all of them. I would also like to say a huge thank you to the city."

But Vasquez has made it clear that winning the award does not represent the closing of the Shanghai chapter in his life. In fact, he hopes to unearth more knowledge of Chinese culture in the coming years.

"Winning this award is like a warm embrace, one that fills me with enthusiasm and drive to continue working on new and interesting projects here in China," he said.

"I would be delighted to continue working here on new projects; those that have a positive impact on society. And I would also be delighted if I can continue learning as I have done up to now."

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