After five years as Art Dubai’s assistant fair director, Zain Masud joins India Art Fair (IAF) as its international director, an opportunity that she says has involved a “re-strategising, reprogramming, refreshing and rebuilding of what IAF has achieved in the past seven years”.

The Oxford graduate’s relationship with the subcontinent extends beyond a sincere interest in “the immense talent across various disciplines, including architecture, literature and design”. It also dips into her lineage: she was born to a Saudi mother and Pakistani father. Her paternal grandmother came from South India and married her grandfather, who was from the subcontinent, and found himself in Pakistan after the partition.

In recent years, Masud has spent time in London, Beijing and Moscow. Now in New Delhi, she hopes IAF “takes versatility and becomes an umbrella for all creative industries in India”.

The recently released full programme shows that of the 70 galleries participating in the fair next month, a quarter are international and 15 are new to the event, with Indian galleries in the majority. “The ever-expanding global culture of art fairs makes it increasingly important for an event such as IAF to distinguish itself with a strong identity relevant to its context,” says Masud.

Why is IAF important on regional and global art calendars? 

South Asia and India are indisputable cultural hubs on every level. This market has unbelievable potential and the international community needs a moment in the calendar to keep their finger on the pulse of this region.

What changes have you made, and why? 

Building on IAF’s foundations as the key platform for contemporary and modern art in India, we’re adjusting our focus and programming to provide a more concise, selective roster of galleries and turn the fair into a definitive reference point for South Asia. We’ve initiated a new programme, called Platform, that positions key art spaces and collectives, which might never otherwise be at an art fair.

We are also inaugurating the fair’s first film programme, ­Moving Image Art, curated by Shai Heredia (founder of ­Experimenta, an international festival for moving-image art in India), and are hosting fascinating projects that investigate the politics of food – natural steps for a country like India that is so defined by these forms of ­creativity.

These efforts also extend to the fair’s acclaimed Speakers’ Forum, which not only addresses access and integration across South Asia, but also the convergence of disciplines, art and literature, performance and film.


What are Indian collectors generally like?

As with most growth markets, in India collectors often begin by supporting work that’s familiar to them. It’s hard to generalise though, given India’s scope, geography and demographics. There are highly educated exposed communities of patrons and new collectors (across) the length and breadth of the country, as well as a deep-rooted tradition of patronage.

The talks programme looks interesting.

We actually have two talks programmes running in tandem, and are anticipating some varied, rich discussions. The Speakers’ Forum, supported by the Goethe Institute, addresses access and integration across South Asia and the convergence of disciplines.

With a shared purpose to promote cultural discourse in South Asia, and provide a platform for such discussion, Godrej India Culture Lab, Asia Art Archive and Art India are collaborating with the fair as academic ­partners.

I’m really excited about (Indian artist) Amar Kanwar, (chief curator of media and performance art, MoMA, New York) Stuart Comer and Shai Heredia coming together to discuss collection and distribution of film. Also super-excited about artist Lala Rukh, in conversation with artist Ayesha Jatoi; Mumbai Art Room in conversation with Cona Foundation about their shared project, Bartered Collections; and (curator) Shanay Jhaveri in discussion with Moma’s architecture curator about the influences of Chandigarh.