The Roles We Play

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Shortlisted   —First Graphic Novel Competition2018

‘One of the true rising stars of UK indie comics…combining moments of quieter symbolism with compelling visual metaphor.’—Andy Oliver, Broken Frontier

‘Where is home, Mum?’

Two-thirds of today’s British Pakistani diaspora trace their origins back to Mirpur in Azad Kashmir, a district that saw mass displacement and migration when it was submerged by the waters of a dam built after Partition. Sabba Khan’s debut graphic memoir explores what identity, belonging and memory mean for her and her family against the backdrop of this history. She paints a vivid snapshot of contemporary British Asian life and investigates the complex shifts experienced by different generations within migrant communities. 

Khan’s eloquent minimal style and architectural page design illuminates her experiences of growing up as a second generation Azad Kashmiri migrant in East London. Issues of race, gender and class are brought to the forefront in a simple and personal narrative. The title of the book nods to the questions Khan explores: can religion and secularism, tradition and trend, heritage and progression move beyond a limited binary definition and toward a common space of love and understanding, and ultimately toward a pluralistic approach?

The Roles We Play was shortlisted for the Myriad First Graphic Novel Competition 2018.

Ben East, The National News

15 July 2021

In the background, the sun sets over the Himalayan mountains framing the intricately drawn villages of the Kashmir valley, where Sabba Khan’s family are from. In the foreground, though, Khan is walking with her mother through Queen's Market, in east London. It’s a telling juxtaposition, central to Khan’s moving graphic memoir The Roles We Play, the end of a chapter which starts with her asking: ‘Where is home, Mamma?’

It’s a question that is as much rhetorical and symbolic as it is literal. Two thirds of today’s British Pakistani diaspora can trace their origins back to Mirpur in Azad Kashmir (on the Pakistan side), a place that suffered mass displacement after the Mangla Dam was built in the 1960s, submerging homes, lands and livelihoods.

Khan’s parents came to England shortly afterwards, ‘doing jobs that the whites thought themselves above’. It was in London that Khan was born, the youngest of five children growing up dealing with ancestral ties and racial tension, the trauma of migration and the soothing – yet sometimes suffocating – balm of the family home.

It’s this constant push and pull between tradition and modernity, family and self-determination which gives The Roles We Play a poignant power. An architectural designer, Khan's trade certainly informs her art as she interrogates the importance of space, both physical and mental, in emotive illustrations that range from comic strip-like narratives to sweeping panoramas, self-portraits and infographics.

If The Roles We Play feels like an extended, artistic therapy session, then that might be the point – although it’s also a universal, wry, exploration into the dilemmas, traumas and comforts that every child of immigrants will recognise. The accompanying playlist, featuring everyone from D’Angelo to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Radiohead, deepens the experiences still further.

‘It started off as a personal exercise,” she explains, “and the more I showed the chapters to people, the more encouragement I got, the more I realised it could be a safe space to talk about things that are quite difficult to approach; my family, the diaspora experience, my own struggle for self-acceptance.’

Khan often likens her experiences to being one of constantly trying to please other people, whether that be her family, the expectations of the country in which she lives, or the Kashmiri Muslim community. She calls it code switching, and the book asks both her community and the country to look beyond racial stereotypes and expected behaviours.

‘It’s important for my generation and the ones to come to give ourselves the space to ask what is beautiful and uplifting about our communities, too,’ she says. ‘My aunt said to me: “Sabba, we are great explorers, we’ve travelled across many lands, we’ve accommodated so much, we’ve grown so much. We’re constantly adaptable.”

‘And I see that in my own family. I’ve seen my parents start off bringing their children up in a very rigid structure of arranged marriages to the point where there’s me, marrying outside the Pakistani community. That just speaks to the fact that a lot of our communities aren’t closed off and segregated – we are highly agile, flexible, incredibly embracing.’

The beginnings of her relationship with her partner is beautifully explored in the book. There’s an intensely personal section where she not only realises the depth of her love for him – ‘who could have known that a temporal love of this world would bring me closest to the divine’ – but also the jealousy she felt because he, as a white man, was automatically ‘welcomed, accepted, loved and respected by everyone.’ She wonders whether she would have met him had she not taken the decision to remove her hair covering in her twenties – ‘it had grown louder than me,’ she writes – and knows that the answer is no.

‘It was such an obvious symbolic gesture to de-purdah – maybe even a bit easy,’ she says. ‘But I do hope that people are able to create those moments where they can define and position themselves in society in a way that works for them; it doesn’t have to be as visible as what I did.’

What The Roles We Play does explore really intelligently is that seismic decisions like de-purdah don’t immediately have to be binary; it’s not a rejection of religion, tradition or family as much as a chance to engender a deeper awareness of self.

‘I was definitely on a journey of dismissing everything,’ she says. ‘But then, I’d also feel really uncomfortable and a bit disrespectful to everything that had come before me. There is a certain arrogance and self-righteousness in saying, “All these people are wrong, I’ll show them the right way.” At every point, I would remind myself of the sheer power of what my family have achieved, and constantly remind myself of their context, their situations, the things that they were grappling with and how they've shaped and defined them.

‘It’s almost like I am here, and able to critique things, and have therapy and these conversations with myself through this book because they afforded me that privilege. So definitely, spirituality and faith are an incredibly powerful tool to offer hope, a thread to hold onto when things are unpredictable, unreliable and unknown.’

The act of drawing has that power for Khan, too. She didn’t grow up with access to comics, but became intrigued by the graphic novel section of Central Saint Martins’s library, where she was studying architecture. She’s slightly embarrassed to admit that her gateway into the form was Craig Thompson’s best-selling Blankets, but actually the comparison is apt; both are in part about growing up in families in which religion plays a significant role, where the protagonist comes to some kind of accommodation with their relationship to spirituality.

That’s the beauty of The Roles We Play – a deeply human response to a situation in which, suffocated by the "mothering" of both her community and herself, Khan was constantly shape-shifting, trying to fit in, being judged. She broke the cycle through love, art and understanding.

‘At first, I wanted people to cry with me and share in my pain,’ she says. ‘Now, I want to give people a window to see into the beautiful complexity of life.’

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Hackney Citizen, Sarah Birch

16 August 2021

A familiar legacy of immigration is a sense of never fully belonging, either to where one leaves or to where one arrives.

Leaving is dissociation, and arrival is so seldom followed by that easy connection with one’s new home that is the privilege of the rooted.

As many children of immigrants know, the tumult of expatriation – mixed as it invariably is with wonder and excitement – can travel onward through generations.

The Roles We Play by Sabba Khan is both a meditation on this collective inherited trauma, and a deep dive into the personal experience of an exceptional woman.

The book, described as a ‘graphic memoir’, is at one level the story of its author, an architect from East London whose parents emigrated from Azad Kashmir in Pakistan. Having taken off her headscarf and married a white Englishman, she is coming to terms with who she is.

Through a combination of graphic art and text, Khan unravels the tensions that haunt her: her relationship with a possessive mother; her religious belief; duty to family and to self; the struggle between belonging and individuality.

Growing up in multicultural Newham, these stresses and strains only became fully apparent to Khan when she went to university and then sought to find a professional niche in the fiercely competitive world of architecture. Her success is testimony to the safe navigation of a cultural obstacle course, but the path was fraught with self-doubt and pain.

At another level, the book is a work of narrative sociology, for Khan clearly sees her experience as being emblematic of the large number of British Asians who find themselves caught between cultures, value systems and competing sets of expectations.

Tackling big questions such as the hierarchy of needs and free will versus cultural determination, the text veers between styles; some passages have an academic flavour, others are far more poetic, and several largeish chunks are styled in conventional graphic novel form.

This makes The Roles We Play somewhat challenging to characterise; but unclassifiability is perhaps a fitting attribute of a volume so laden with paradox and so rich in nuance.

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Anahit Behrooz, The Skinny

27 July 2021

There is an almost therapeutic quality to The Roles We Play, Sabba Khan’s tenderly sketched memoir of personal and collective displacement. Spanning the history of Partition to her own coming-of-age in the diverse boroughs of East London, Khan’s autobiographical graphic novel is a startlingly vulnerable exercise in introspection, an investigation into how self-identity can be cultivated amidst encompassing metanarratives of diaspora and intergenerational trauma.

The prose occasionally forays into didacticism but is at its strongest when lingering in questions rather than answers. Khan brings a cultural specificity that is sadly still missing from much of the British canon, honing in on the nuances of the Kashmiri immigrant experience and the legacy of liminality inherited by the second generation: the tension between collectivity and individualism, the experience of religion as both anchor and weight.

Khan’s creative approach is markedly loose, abandoning the rigid bounds of traditional comic panels for hand-drawn storyboards and striking whole page illustrations that stress her constant, determined quest for self-expression. Khan’s background lies in architecture and perhaps unsurprisingly, her art achieves a depth that her writing doesn’t quite match: figures fragment across the page and surreal dreamscapes sit alongside intimate portraits of a complex family life. The beautiful production doesn’t stop at the pages either: with poignant endpapers and a curated playlist to accompany each chapter, The Roles We Play is an unequivocal labour of love.

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Dave's Comics, Instagram

19 July 2021

The debut graphic novel from Sabba Khan is part memoir about British Asian life & her heritage, but also opens up to talk about wider universal subjects such as identity, sexism and culture. Strong writing and thoughtful layouts which point to her training as an architect make for a thought-provoking read.

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Stephen Holland, Page 45

19 July 2021

Such generosity! Such appreciation! Such fascination with family, individuality, the tugs between each and the pulls within wider society! We can all relate to that for a start, but the key is that Sabba Khan’s own fascination is infectious, rendering this fulsome meditation on identity a riveting read from cover to cover.

Communicated with astonishing clarity and precision born of a mental acuity which I can barely fathom, THE ROLES WE PLAY is the single comic which has most broadened and deepened my understanding on any given subject. I have waited my lifetime for a graphic memoir like this.

To begin comprehending any individual’s journey through life is a joy and a privilege.

But to begin to comprehend the very different perspectives of two consecutive generations of Kashmiri Muslim migrants in Britain, the first pushed out of their beloved, flooded villages and country by the British building of a post-Partition dam, and so immediately forced to focus on resettlement, consolidation and the very act of survival in an alien English land whose majority hosts were/are either blithely dominant or predominantly hostile... the second seeking to stretch, to assert their sense of selves without compromising their heritage and sieze opportunities which their parents couldn’t... and to see all that so skilfully and sympathetically untangled along with hard societal truths of repeated resistance by a creator with real love in her heart is a rarity and a treasure. As you’ll discover, it took Khan many moons to come close to comprehending herself (and indeed, herself).

Brilliantly – and bravely – Khan also discerned, perhaps intuitively, that her professional passion for architectural design would be the only effective means of not merely illustrating but illuminating her questions and reflections. It’s a distinction I’ve only made previously of J.H. Williams III’s contribution to Alan Moore’s PROMETHEA, equally rich in probing and profound philosophy. Such is the diagrammatical wit that I cannot imagine another approach or style that would have worked half so well and I tried. A traditional layout with panels and gutters would have set me at as much remove as more embellished forms, and so pushed me away from what is both individualistic and universal: I would have merely observed rather than been immersed in Khan’s revelations.

The revelations are both personal and societal, the one informing the other. Khan facilitates our understanding of and empathy with these by sharing intimate moments with her mother (who had her own roles to play, which she diligently did) and one particularly cherished memory of rare time spent in her older brother’s loft room crammed full of prime ‘80s and ‘90s sci-fi/horror which is deliciously iconoclastic yet reverent at the same time. “Do Muslims believe in aliens?” she asks him. “Do we believe in time travel?” There follows a consideration of Kismat.

And that’s a perfect example of what you’ll enjoy within: a specific experience giving rise to wider contemplation, both on the page and almost certainly within your own noggin.

THE ROLES WE PLAY is structured with a thematic rather than chronological flow, encounters and reactions suggesting others, and questions begetting questions which her family would rather Sabba stopped asking. But that surely is one of our primary functions in this life if we are to be truly alive.

What I can’t do without reprinting page after page is show how that structure is mirrored visually, with variations on a form replicated in different environments or top tiers on consecutive pages coloured so as to constitute headers. The former suggests myriad extra implications; the latter keeps control of a narrative which in less disciplined hands could careen all over the place.

Obviously there are less cherished encounters: at school, at border control on entering Tel Aviv, being spat on through a car window or banging her head against the wilfully closed doors of prospective employers and wider society whilst wearing a hijab.

Now imagine that I’d typed “headscarf” instead. Yes, exactly. Also: exactly. That miniature mental exercise which you’ve just undertaken (thank you for that) may give you some inkling as to the multilayered complexities which Khan has been processing for years involving (amongst many things) superficiality, loaded connotations, nigh-ubiquitous misrepresentation, sheep-mentality/wolf-pack aggression and... Oooh, I haven’t yet mentioned Sabba Khan’s atheist husband.

“Who could have known that a temporal love of this world would bring me closest to the divine?”

I cannot begin to tell you what keen additional reflections that relationship gives rise to.

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Samia Aziz, 9 Book Recommendations for South Asian Heritage Month

17 July 2021

Sabba Khan has created a beautiful graphic novel which explores dilemmas faced by diaspora communities. She takes us on her journey of finding herself by exploring religion, culture, partition, history and displacement. It is Sabba’s quest to flourish, belong and truly breathe in spaces and systems that have been built to other and exclude her. She takes us with her in exploring everything from the history of Kashmir, to the streets of East London.

Through her art, Sabba shares her deepest thoughts, ideas and fears, and this speaks loudly to many second-generation immigrant children. A very beautiful and inspirational book. 

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Hafsa Lodi @hafsalodi on instagram

16 July 2021

‘With all this awful noise it felt like there was no space in our community for introspection. If I couldn’t safely ask questions, how could I forge my own personal connection with the faith?’

In her debut book and graphic memoir [which released yesterday] Kashmiri-British architectural designer and artist @sabbakhanart embarks on a journey of self-discovery, critically analysing her upbringing, heritage, education and relationships and how colonialism has impacted it all. 

I finished reading this thoroughly impressed, impassioned and proud. There were many instances from Khan’s childhood, and early adult journey, that I resonated with, and I was surprised to find my eyes watering at the end.

She examines her evolving relationship with her mother, her faith, and her changing views on veiling, as well as the divide between the communitarian, extended-family system of South Asian culture with the attitude of individualism that we’re raised with in the West. I love that she delved into the historical context behind why so many Kashmiris were displaced due to the building of the Mangla Dam, and then ended up in Britain.

Ostracised by the racism outside of her home, and stifled by the patriarchy within her home, Khan gives a layered depiction of the identity crises that so many of us grapple with. Each section is marked with its own soundtrack – from Nusrat Fateh Ali’s ‘Dam Mast to ‘Fallin’ by Alicia Keys – both personal favourite tunes of mine too. And, oh, the artwork! Khan’s distinctive style is elegant yet abstract, romantic yet refined. I would love to buy some of the pages as separate pieces of art and frame them – like the page featuring the 99 names of Allah. But on second thoughts, this is a book that really can’t be picked apart, each page is part of the whole – the story of Sabba Khan’s , pieces of which mirror many of our own lived experiences as second-generation kids formulating our own beliefs, priorities and goals outside our culturally-influenced comfort zones.

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Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan @thebrownhijabi on instagram

16 July 2021

So let’s talk about this amazing graphic novel by Sabba Khan.

So this is actually the first graphic novel I’ve ever read!? And honestly… MashaAllah I was so moved. Whatever I imagined graphic novels to be like, I did NOT anticipate this!!

e.g. I neeeever expected to see the building of the Mangla Dam in a graphic novel!!? I love how Sabba tells her personal story with such honouring of the colonial and complex histories we have all inherited.

Also personally for me I am so wary of reading people’s narratives of complex family relationships as they can so easily fall into the tropes we all know. But I was so so so happy and have so much respect for how Sabba both honoured her own truth and pain but without ever failing to contextualise the harms and injustices (past, present, epistemic, racial, etc) that her family face/d. Can’t express how much I appreciated that.

Not to mention the beautiful illustrations and representations and honouring of womeennnnn so much throughout!!

Honestly I cried within the first 2 chapters of this and more than anything I just have a tonne of respect and gratitude for Sabba for telling her story without compromising on her own vulnerability and without doing a disservice to anybody. It is so so hard to simultaneously resist Islamophobia, racism, secularism, coloniality AND resist making yourself small and smothering your own personal pains but what Sabba has done here is all of that. Honestly I’m inspired and you all deserve to read this. May Allah put barakah in it. Ameen.

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Andy Oliver, Broken Frontier

16 July 2021

To a certain extent I have been fortunate enough to have had something of a unique perspective on the development of the comics practice of Sabba Khan, whose debut long-form work The Roles We Play was published this week by Myriad Editions. If I’m not mistaken I believe I was the first reviewer to write about her comics way back in 2015 and have been following her creative journey over the following years through her self-publishing endeavours, exhibitions and as one of our mentored 2017 Broken Frontier ‘Six Small Press Creators to Watch’.

I initially discovered Khan through her earliest, more whimsical. self-published comics. But it was her One Beat Zines’ Identity anthology contribution that underlined her potential to me in just 6 short pages. I spoke then at Broken Frontier of that affecting piece of autobio and of how resonantly she used “moments of quieter symbolism with some compelling visual metaphor [to give] the reader an insight into the conflicting pull of two cultures on her sense of self.”

Khan’s work “explores first-world city life as a second-generation Kashmiri Muslim migrant” and The Roles We Play was shortlisted for the Myriad First Graphic Novel Competition in 2018. This much awaited graphic memoir vastly expands on the themes of her previous short form comics (indeed longer-term followers of Khan will spot some of those anthology and exhibition pieces slightly retooled and incorporated into the longer narrative herein). While The Roles We Play is ostensibly a graphic essay for Khan to examine her own identity, culture and finding her place in the world, it is also takes in wider generational considerations. Particularly in relation to the historical events that have resulted in the majority of the British Pakistani diaspora’s origins being linked to Mirpur, an area that disappeared underwater as a result of a post-Partition dam, and led to inevitable mass migration.

As I have said before at Broken Frontier sometimes the very best autobio comics are those that feel like they have been created as much, if not more, for their authors as for an audience. What is immediately appealing about Khan’s approach in The Roles We Play is that we feel from the outset that we are being invited to join her in a pseudo-real time interrogation of self; that her discoveries are, in turn, our discoveries one step removed. It’s this sense of intimacy, cultivated by Khan’s unflinching candour, that draws us so fully into the book.

Indeed in early pages she offers us an incredibly open and often very raw account of her childhood. One where individual identity was subsumed into the greater familial identity; where the cultural dynamics of mother-daughter-sister relationships were sometimes complex, sometimes comforting, and sometimes intense; and where patriarchy is a constant lingering presence. There’s a constant sense of fragility to her narrative, a delicateness, a vulnerability… and yet there is also an undeniable inner strength in Khan’s confronting the echoes of the past, however trepidatious she clearly feels about that process.

That conflict between fitting in and belonging is one of The Roles We Play’s most prominent themes. It’s juxataposed with flashbacks to the story of her mother’s life in early Partition era India and the perceived status of her parents as almost pioneers when they moved to London. It’s also inextricably interconnected with another similar question of where/what is home and how do we define that? How much are we a product of our environments and conversely in turn to what degree do we shape them?

Throughout, she is uncompromisingly honest about how this quest for identity and understanding can overwhelm and oppress her. In attempting to reconcile the many different aspects of her life – faith, heritage and environment among others – Khan acknowledges a degree of performativity (the titular The Roles We Play) and a kind of fracturing of self. The cyclical shifts between agency, guilt and conformity becoming ever familiar.

Previous work is expanded on, particularly the section covering her decision to relinquish her headscarf (explored before in Identity) and those, like me, who were fortunate enough to see Khan’s work at the Burnt Roti ‘The Beauty of Being British Asian’ exhibition in London in 2017 (below) will recognise her comic from that event nestling within The Roles We Play. The themes of minicomic Motherhood are also an integral part of the book. Inevitably the spectre of racism is never far away. An early scene of being spat at as a child by bigots is as difficult to read as a later one of Khan being accused of being a terrorist in public shortly after the 2005 bomb attacks on the London underground. The latter sees an astonishing use of pacing, a page-turn reveal, white space and minimalism to depict her devastation at the incident with a despairing potency.

Khan has an artistic style that deceives the reader in its elegantly stripped back simplicity. In terms of the mechanics of the form, though, it is extremely sophisticated in its construction and it’s in this seeming incongruity that she forms such an immediate communicative bond with the reader; our empathy assured by its careful combination of accessibility and eloquence. I’ve spoken in the past of Khan’s adoption of quieter symbolism with compelling visual metaphor and it’s this aspect of her storytelling that will perhaps most excite those enthusiasts of the pure language of the form. She is an artist who has always come to the medium without preconceptions of what comics should be and looked at the page as a blank canvas to be exploited. It’s led to a distinctive style of sequential storytelling that, aside from the aforementioned use of visual metaphor, also employs the diagrammatic, the architectural (especially structural cutaways), and experimental panel compositions.

As I continue to say at Broken Frontier, books like The Roles We Play are so important not just for those who may recognise elements of their own lives in Khan’s story but for those of us who need to open ourselves up to the realities of others’ lived experiences. In acknowledging the contradictions in her life, and seeking to reconcile those divisions, Khan takes us on a journey of adaptation, growth, acceptance and discovery. It’s an easy reviewer fallback to talk of books that reward re-reading but this is one that you’ll never stop fully unpacking, unpicking and reflecting upon.

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Samia Aziz @readwithsamia on instagram

14 July 2021

I very rarely feel like I could read a book over and over again, or that I could open it to any page and fully immerse myself... but I certainly feel that way with The Roles We Play. In her beautiful graphic novel, Sabba takes us on a journey of self-discovery and acceptance of self, as she reconnects to her roots to learn about her family history and heritage, and follows a journey from the scenic lands of Mirpur, Azad Kashmir all the way through to the bustling streets of East London.

She captures the huge questions we ask as children of immigrants and people who are constantly told we don't belong. In a time where our identity is constantly challenged and questioned, Sabba goes on a quest to uncover her own and in doing so answers questions and reveals the thoughts of so many like her... like me.

Sabba puts out the subtle thoughts and phrases that carry so much weight for us while being meaningless to others, and explores what it truly means to belong and know yourself. She explores language, faith, clothing, culture, expectations and so much more.

Sabba reminds us that we don't exist with the labels others put on us, but we each have our own identities, heritages and lives. And we should own it. Really a beautiful book, I hope everyone reads it.

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Win Wiacek, Comics Review

13 July 2021

Do you know what’s one of the most scarily charged questions in modern life?

‘Where are you from?’

It used to be a neutral opening: a simple introductory gambit when meeting new people, but has recently become fraught with purely British angst, dipped in layers of second, third and fourth-guessing for all parties concerned. Are the words a friendly, casual enquiry to establish social parity and share past experience, or is it a setting of the scene for a judgemental inquisition or even targeting for imminent disparaging condescension?

I’m Hertfordshire-born baby-boomer English, via a German mum and Polish dad: the whitest Old White Male you could ever imagine and my accent is just right to be wholly acceptable to doctors, publicans, posh gits, shopkeepers, schoolkids, sports fans of all descriptions, raving Gammons and sneaky leftist liberal socialists alike. In modern terms, that’s winning the British community lottery, but deep within, I’m tainted with foreignness to my core. Anybody feel like treating me differently now you know?

Not ticking all those boxes has made life increasingly difficult for a vast pool of my fellow Brits: a point I can perfectly prove by reference to the debut graphic novel of architectural designer and visual artist Sabba Khan. She’s British too, but has to constantly remind not just the people around her, but also her own family…

Told over three transformative, illuminating stages The Roles We Play follows a young girl reared in a loving, abusive, restrictive, nurturing home that gave no shrift to individuality or accommodated personal dreams, but instead made everything of a culture, history and tradition forsaken for a new life in an incomprehensibly different world.

Khan grew up in East London when she was outside, but lived in a house that was a static box of ancestral Kashmiri life constructed following her parents move to England. They came as part of an Asian diaspora triggered by the 1947 partition of India and subsequent flooding of the Mirpur valley in Azad Kashmir in 1961. The project created a dam, power source and stable water supply, but forcibly displaced 15 million Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims who had previously farmed the valley in peace for generations.

Apparently, two thirds of British Pakistanis trace their ancestry back to the Mirpur Valley and the 1961 Water Treaty between India and Pakistan which still resonates in the ongoing battle for control of the Kashmir region…

Although womanly skills, and general history and context were abundant and scrupulously shared and passed on in the house, tolerance of British ways was not. Sabba grew up drawn in two directions: cherishing the love of family, support of faith and familiar ways, but constantly chided for her incomprehensible interest in the places, ways and temptations of the different life beyond the house walls.

Always keen to chart her own course, Khan spent years seeking to balance two lives before choosing to pursue art and architecture. She claimed independence: breaking away from controlling family, constant judgement, wheedling scrutiny and soft-power governance to create her own career and multicultural clan with a man of another world and friends of her own choosing.

Her ruminations, observations and bittersweet reminiscences are cannily transformed here into a captivating testament to a life of choice: exploring the truth of growing up Asian in Britain, seeking to assimilate the new whilst embracing the traditional. Seen in macrocosm, her superbly imaginative graphic designs and illustrative scenes trace a life of introspection and longing, deconstructing issues of race, alienation, rejection, cultural identity and sense-of-place-and-worth, whilst confronting on a personal level countless incidents covering a history of intolerance over religion, skin colour, gender, history, class and yes, race again…

Deftly sustaining a captivating balancing act between a British now with the idealised Kashmir she never knew, Khan has manifested a compelling journey laced with humour, warmth, hope and unshakable determination that should call out to not just the many migrant communities that make up modern society – and who have built the notion of Britain since before the Roman Invasion – but also to all of us who used to proudly welcome strangers here…

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Jon Opie, Jerwood Arts

14 May 2021

A compelling piece of storytelling – an autobiographical string of thirty stories, confessional and immediate, through which Sabba Khan gives perspective on the legacy of partition, displacement, colonialism and inter-generational negotiation of life in Pakistani/Kashmiri communities in London. The palate and spareness of its visual identity allows it to show the architecture of place, the character of people, metaphor, abstraction and wit. It is a literary form that should give readers an important insight on family, identity and belonging. I am very proud that Jerwood Arts gave the space for Sabba to complete the novel with such brilliance.

Preti Taneja

4 May 2021
A moving, important work: a beautifully drawn and fresh take on an old story of coming to terms with, and overcoming the great schisms, that a silenced history imposes on British South Asian women. I loved its critique of environmental damage and displacement in the name of economic development, the necessary specificity of its author's family background in Azad Kashmir, her questioning of faith, culture, racism and ultimately love,
her commitment to the ideals of social justice, the equality love can bring.

Umi Sinha, author, Belonging

20 April 2021

I absolutely loved Sabba Khan's book. It is so wonderfully intelligent and balanced and lays out with remarkable simplicity and clarity the historical influences that are still so pervasive and unacknowledged in the unequal treatment of people of different races and genders today.  I think it should be required reading in every school in Britain.

‘The Roles We Play’ is a moving, wide-ranging and uplifting account of a second generation immigrant’s voyage of self-discovery. Sabba Khan explores with clear-sighted intelligence and passion the pitfalls and barriers – both current and historical – that immigrants face on their journey to balance the their own needs as individuals with the needs of their community, their yearning to belong with their desire to retain the richness and wisdom of the cultural heritages that have shaped them.

Benjamin Worku-Dix, PositiveNegatives

20 April 2021
Sabba Khan's deeply personal reflection on her family's history through Partition and identity struggle growing up in London is one of the most poignant graphic novels I've read. Her beautiful architectural style flowing through the pages and illustrations makes for a fascinating, informative and aesthetically stunning read.

Anne Karpf, author and Professor of Life Writing and Culture

20 April 2021

What a cherishable book! Khan’s powerful meditation on migration and (un)belonging richly evokes her family's pre-Partition lives in what’s now Pakistan, the profound challenges of acculturation and the liminal, third space that migrants occupy. We follow her on her journey towards a third space of her own — one beyond dutiful daughter and rebellious adult, watching as personal and social histories collide, fracture and finally begin to integrate. This probing, perceptive exploration of diaspora dilemmas, and Khan’s own struggle to separate from her family and understand the roots of its often oppressive norms, will speak to the children of immigrants of every stripe and those who want to understand them. Moving and irresistible.

Zeba Talkhani, author of My Past is a Foreign Country

5 March 2021

Sabba Khan bravely and brightly steps into the vortex of her multi-hyphenated identity to give us this razor-sharp, resilient and generous view of what it means to believe, belong and breathe within spaces that are designed to keep you out. The Roles We Play comes from a place where all astonishing art originates: deep self-interrogation and radical empathy.

South Asian Writers, South Asian Heritage Month

21 December 2020

During #SouthAsianHeritageMonth, I had the absolute pleasure of sitting down with architectural designer and artist, @sabbakhanart.

We spoke about life, love, impostor syndrome, identity, belonging, and her upcoming debut graphic novel, #TheRolesWePlay (@myriad_editions, 2021)

I've been a bit of a fan of Sabba's work for some time now. I love the way she is able to weave in themes of fracture and discord around aspects of her culture without revoking any affection and pride for her roots. Her art remains a constant testament and love letter to her heritage. A beautiful thing, indeed.

Head to to watch our interview (🌟#linkinbio🌟) We were so at ease with one another, it just felt like two old friends talking the day away.

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