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Verve People
March 14, 2016

Gene Junction: Zain Masud

Text by Huzan Tata. Photograph by Shamil Gadzhidadaev, Makhachkala

Art curator, Zain Masud talks about her multicultural family and what makes her nostalgic

“I was raised never to forget where I am from, yet to see the world as my oyster.”

She’s a prime example of mixed heritage if there ever was one. Her mother is Iraqi-Hijazi, and her father is half Indian and half Pakistani (though born in Singapore). Though her parents are today British by nationality, Zain Masud’s grandparents hailed from Punjab, Singapore, Mecca and Iraq — making this Oxford and SOAS-educated art curator and international director of India Art Fair 2016, one whose roots traverse the world.

Her beginnings
“I was born in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to a very multicultural family. I grew up in London, singing hymns at my Church of England school, reading the Quran at home, and going to Arabic classes on the weekends. I was raised to never forget where I am from, yet to see the world as my oyster. I think these things inform my encounters with the world.”

Parental influences
“Both my parents have always given priority to education and liberal freethinking. My mother was the first Saudi woman to get a PhD from Oxford, and has become the region’s most prominent female writer and political analyst. My father is a MiG-flying, self-made businessman who began a new life in China in his 50s. They broke the mould by marrying out of their communities. I suppose going for something out of the ordinary is what I’ve learned from both sides!”

East or west
“Which is my ‘own’ country? London is home and it’s never been a problem.”

Being diverse
“I’ve just taken it up a notch by marrying an Irish-American from the Caucasus Mountains. Mixed marriage and cultural diversity is the future. It’s made me feel at home in the world.”

Memories of grandparents
“Each of them was devout — religion and traditions were paramount — but in a totally unimposing and un-didactic way. They, like all grandparents, loved to tell stories of the bygone world they grew up in; I grew up steeped in that.”

Paying it forward
“It’s crucial to me that if we have a family, our children will speak Arabic and be close to their grandparents to really absorb the various facets of their cultures, beliefs and traditions.”

Home is
“Wherever my husband is.”

Nostalgia strikes with
“The adhan (call to daily prayers), my mother’s lentil soup, and my father’s Irish stew.”

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