Beyond Books | The Roles We Play
This Beyond Books talk brings together Birmingham-based multidisciplinary artist Roo Dhissou in conversation with visual artist, graphic novelist and architectural designer Sabba Khan. Sabba is the writer and illustrator of The Roles We Play, a graphic memoir that paints contemporary British Asian life and investigates the complex shifts experienced by different generations within migrant communities.
Roo, who recently shared their Cha Wali performance with us as part of The Big Lunch, already had a copy of The Roles We Play and as a “British, Indian, (British Asian, Punjabi, and all things in between and beyond)” multidisciplinary artist, found organic overlaps with some of themes of Sabba’s book and their own practice.
“I’m so happy about this event, because Sabba’s book really closely sits with the work I make – what role do we play? What role does whiteness make us play and what role does culture make us play? These are questions I’m very much interested in and the response is always so varied, because we’re all so intersectional.” —Roo Dhissou
Together, speaking in person at The Floating Front Room, they will explore the relationships and connections we have with one another as well as how we formulate a sense of self, and invite us to reflect on these themes for ourselves.
We’ll be exploring this together in a collaborative zine workshop the weekend before this talk, see here for details.
About The Roles We Play
“We all have roles we play,
but there is so much more
There is the higher self, the self
fuelled by creativity, ambition,
aspiration, hopes and desires.”
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?
Praise for The Roles We Play
“One of the true rising stars of UK indie comics…combining moments of quieter symbolism with compelling visual metaphor.” —Andy Oliver, Broken Frontier
“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. 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.” —@readwithSamia
“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.”
“A beautiful and bittersweet book about heritage and identity, finding oneself and one’s way in the world.”
“[A] razor-sharp, resilient and generous view of what it means to believe, belong and breathe within spaces that are designed to keep you out.” —Zeba Talkhani
About Sabba Khan
Sabba Khan is South Asian Muslim visual artist, graphic novelist and architectural designer based in London. Her work looks at unpacking rootlessness, displacement and intergenerational trauma faced by migrant communities who sit in the aftermath of colonial legacy. She uses lived experience, memories and oral histories to expose how wider policies affect our day to day.
Sabba Khan’s debut graphic novel, The Roles We Play, is published by Myriad Editions, supported by Jerwood Arts and is now available in bookshops nationwide. She is joint Eisner Award winner for Best Anthology 2020 for ‘Drawing Power’ where she was both front cover artist and key contributor. Sabba’s clients include; the NHS, the British Library, SOAS University, London Borough of Newham, Each Other, JCWI, to name a few.
About Roo Kaur Dhissou
Roo Dhissou explores the relationships and connections we have with one another as well as how we formulate a sense of self. Through her arts practice she investigates how multiplicity in culture is conducive to the concept of belonging and space. She is interested in facilitating discourse around race, gender and social class and the performability of these social structures.
Using playful techniques, her current work reimagines cultural experience through gestalt expression, participatory performance, shared practices, gifting and attachments in found objects. Dhissou was the recipient of the prestigious Gertrude Aston Bowater Bequest (2019), AIS Award (2020) and Tate Liverpool Artists Award (2020). She currently works with Ikon as a Research Assistant for Ikon in the 1990s funded by the Paul Mellon Centre and will later be embarking on a fully funded Phd with M4C UKRI. This year she will be showing with Coventry Biennial, Niru Ratnam and more recently has had work acquired for New Art Gallery Walsall.
About Beyond Books
Beyond Books acknowledges and treasures space for reading, lending, purchasing and discussing what books are, have been and could be to us. Bringing forward voices that encourage and cultivate conversations, offering narratives and ideas informed by our identities, lived experiences and dreams, it is a platform where books and other means of sharing stories are used to democratise knowledge, imagination, and enjoyment. We envisage Beyond Books will be key to unlock the dream matter in all of us, strengthening our infrastructure to unleash the capacity to engage, learn, grow and delve into many possibilities for ourselves and our places.