Arts & Culture The Home Issue

What it means to be a third culture kid

This artist tells us.

By Sekka Team

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“The Malaysian notion of home is the ‘kampung’, literally translating to ‘village’. It’s where one was brought up and has generational roots. Every year during major holidays, songs play about returning to your home town and people frequently ask whether you’ll ‘balik (return to your) kampung’. I’m in the awkward and rare position where I would call the UAE, a technically foreign country to be my kampung.” -Asaad, Malaysia. Kampung from Deveena Sood’s Pixelated Portraits Series.

The term “third culture kid”, used to refer to children who grew up in a culture that is different from the one their parents grew up in or belong to, is now being used more than ever. But what does it really mean to be one? One young artist tells us. 20-year-old Deveena Sood, a student at the prestigous Parsons School of Art and Design, has recently made the third culture kid experience the focus of her artwork. In her Pixelated Portraits Series, a selection of which hung in Al Serkal Cultural Foundation in Dubai up until last month and is currently on display in the Ras Al Khaimah Fine Arts Festival , Deveena features third culture kids of Dubai, and explores how they feel about the label, and their experiences of growing up in the UAE. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Tell us more about your series Pixelated Portraits.

My series of pixelated paintings explore the third culture kid label in the UAE. They aim to deconstruct the identity of third culture kids in the UAE to demonstrate the diversity of nationalities that call this place home, and the significance this country holds in their lives. The individuals are dressed in UAE national dress to momentarily integrate themselves into a country that has great importance in their lives. The use of pixels is to present a visual puzzle whereby, from afar, a polished image of the person can be seen but from up close, the individual parts that makeup who they are, are deconstructed. Thus, they convey how, from afar, third culture kids are just like everyone else, but up close they have many unique elements that construct who they are.

Each portrait is paired with a quote that showcases each person’s story and connection to the UAE.

Left: “I am proud of my multicultural background, and although it’s a hassle to explain my whole life to people from time to time, it’s who I am and I value it tremendously.” -Hoori, South Korea. Right: “On paper, you can say that Lebanon is home. However, for me and my direct family, the UAE is home and will forever be home.” -Wafic, Lebanon. Proud and Safe & Secure from Deveena Sood’s Pixelated Portraits Series.

What inspired you to do it? How do you feel as a third culture kid yourself? What are some of the challenges and perks?

I am a third culture kid. Being born and raised in Dubai with this label was an easy fit.?In my international school, I was surrounded by third culture kids like myself, who were proudly raised in a fusion of cultures. While growing up, this was the norm.

However, when visiting India, I always found it interesting that I was considered to be from Dubai, but when I was in Dubai I was considered to be from India. It was not something I thought much about, however, until I started college in America, where being a third culture kid was not the norm. Answering the question ‘Where are you from?’ became hard, and something I thought about a lot more.

Being a third culture kid is kind of like being from nowhere but everywhere at the same time. Today, I am a blend of all the cultures that I have experienced, and my upbringing has made me passionate about my third culture kid identity. Although it can be hard to explain my identity at times, I have come to realise that the third culture kid label is my greatest strength. We, third culture kids, are open- minded, adaptable and unique.

Deveena Sood, the artist behind the Pixelated Portraits Series. Photo courtesy of Deveena Sood.

In this issue, we explore the theme of home. Where is home to you?

Home for me is Dubai and I am proud to be from Dubai.

“I love this country. It’s beautiful and it’s a place I could come back to and still call home.” -Rida, Pakistan. Homey’ness from Deveena Sood’s Pixelated Portraits Series.

What are you currently working on?

Currently, I have been working on a collaborative project called Park and Paint, which is a public art installation that allows people to come together and collectively create a piece of art. Over the last few months, my team and I conducted events in Washington Square Park, where we set up a temporary structure and provided art supplies. The result of this was collaborative paintings made up of individuals’ contributions; one painting that represented the essence of all.

Being in art school my team and I have the chance to constantly express ourselves and be creative. We realised from our friends in different career paths and also during internships that not everyone has accessibility to creativity like us. As creatives, we have seen and experienced the benefits of self-expression. Park and Paint is about making art accessible to people of all ages, by asking them to take a moment out of their busy day to express themselves.

We are currently working on bringing the Park and Paint concept to corporate settings for team building and events.

The views of the authors and writers who contribute to Sekka, and the views of the interviewees who are featured in Sekka, do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Sekka, its parent company, its owners, employees and affiliates.