Struggle for identities: Sara Khan Pathan uses akhrot to break stereotypes about Pakhtuns

Published: April 27, 2013
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan by Sara Khan Pathan. PHOTO: COURTESY CITI ART GALLERY

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan by Sara Khan Pathan. PHOTO: COURTESY CITI ART GALLERY

KARACHI: By putting akhrot [walnut] hats on the heads of five eminent Khans, artists Sara Khan Pathan tried to break stereotypes about people who are ethnically Pakhtun.

Part of the exhibition ‘My Name Is…’ that opened at Indus Valley School (IVS) gallery on Wednesday, Sara has printed pictures of five Khans – singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, politician Imran Khan, former president Ayub Khan, boxer Amir Khan and squash champion Jansher Khan – in their element and painted nut-shaped helmets on their heads.

“We are all aware of the cultural and social stereotypes we have against Khans and Pathans – the name comes with a certain baggage,” said Hajra Haider Karrar, the curator. “The minute you hear the word, a bell rings in your head and a chain of thoughts follow. If he is a Khan, he must be Pathan, and we all know the Pathan jokes.”

The name, in fact, carries a historical legacy of bravery.”The Mongols and Central Asians used the term ‘Khan’ to refer to a sovereign or military ruler,” said Karrar. “It held a certain authority and was a symbol of power. The stereotypes it went on to acquire are in contrast to what it originally meant.”

All of the artists whose work was being exhibited – Sara Khan Pathan, Muhammad Atif Khan, Maria Khan, Amra Khan, Saba Khan and Sara Khan – were Khans with very distinct identities. “When you put their works up together, their individual identity shines through. Their work is a direct condemnation of stereotypes.” She added that the work of the artists showed how people could nurture their own individual identities while sharing a larger cultural one.

“While stereotyping Pathans, we tend to forget that all the greatest people in every field are Khans,” said Rasheed Noorani, the director of Continuing Education Programme at IVS. “You see them working hard and rising in every field, be it performing arts, sports or politics. It is really unfair that we stereotype them.”

Another representative of the school, Samina Khan, felt that Khans everywhere continued to dazzle the world with their architectural skills. “Khans and Pathans have been known to build entire cities in the Middle East,” she said. “They went there in the 30s and 40s when Qatar was still being built and performed architectural wonders. They are very resilient people.”

A teacher at the school, Samia Rajar, felt that Sara’s work was very direct and presented a choice to the viewer. “You could either see it as a funny take on stereotypes. Or you could choose to be offended by what it suggests. It is very subjective.”

Artist Amin Gulgee felt that the exhibition was meant to make people question the stereotypes around them. “The artists are fighting against homogeneity and generalisation,” he said. “All of their works are very divergent. This is because there is no homogeneity in the world.”

The works of the six Khans is on display at IVS till May 11.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 27th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (19)

  • Ahsan Raza
    Apr 27, 2013 - 10:08AM

    Amir Khan is not a Pukhtun, just because someone has Khan at the end of the name doesnt make them a Pukhtun.


  • Concerned Sindhi
    Apr 27, 2013 - 10:54AM

    So I thought that Caste System only exists in Hinduism like i was told in my school in Pakistan while i was counting the advantages of Islam out of which one was that everyone is equal irrespective or Race or Color Affiliation. But after reading this article i can safely say that Muslims who use the Word Khan actually believe in Concepts of Brahmans too and it seems Khan is something like Brahman Class of Muslims and they think of themselves as the Superior Class while the Rest of us like Sindhis, Non Pathan Muhajirs, Punjabis, Kashmiris can call ourself as Shooders of Pakistan as we dont want to boast ourself as the Ultimate human being. like they do.


  • PaKhtoon
    Apr 27, 2013 - 11:25AM

    I am a Proud Pakistani and a Proud Pakhtoon, I don’t care about any stereotypes coz I know Who we are ………..


  • Moz Rauf
    Apr 27, 2013 - 12:06PM

    I don’t think Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was a Pathan either. ‘Khan’ which is pronounced ‘Kha’ is a title and doesn’t necessarily reflect any ethnic association.


  • Usman khan
    Apr 27, 2013 - 12:07PM

    All so called pattans mentionec in this article ..
    singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, politician Imran Khan, former president Ayub Khan, boxer Amir Khan and squash champion Jansher Khan –

    None of them are pukhtoon except for Jansher..

    Being Pukhtoon is a state of mind..
    The word KHAN doesnt make you a pukhtoon.


  • Pakistani
    Apr 27, 2013 - 12:24PM

    @Concerned Sindhi: It seems you didn’t read the article and jump to the comments section…..I will just say sorry for u …..


  • Hassan
    Apr 27, 2013 - 12:50PM

    Amir Khan (boxer) isn’t a Pashtun but a Janjua by race, nor Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is an ethnic Pashtun (just bcoz Khan at the end of his name doesn’t make him a Pashtun).


  • Ameen
    Apr 27, 2013 - 1:50PM

    Not surprised to see that everyone is missing the point. Thank you so much for correcting the aritist that her chosen sujects were wrong (except Jansher ofcourse) but does that change the point she is making?


  • Zahir Cheema
    Apr 27, 2013 - 1:51PM

    Lol Everyone with a name ending as Khan is categorized into Pukhtoon Category. Amir Khan is a Janjua Punjabi and He belong from Potohar and many tribes of Potohar like Parachas, Awan, Khosas, Janjuas and Rajputs sometimes write Khan with their name as it is not some Ethnic Affiliation rather only a title in the end of the name. Same is the case with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Also if we define Ethnicity based on Language, Culture and Geography then Ayub Khan and Imran Khan fall into a different category as well.Recommend

  • Sana
    Apr 27, 2013 - 1:56PM

    That’s the point of the artist. Not all Khans are Pathans but just because people have Khan at the end of their name people stereotype them. So instead of saying that this guy is not a Pakhtun or that guy is not Pathan, understand that the artist is talking about ‘Khans’ in general. The artist isnt trying to prove who is Pakhtun… just Khan.


  • Temur
    Apr 27, 2013 - 2:40PM

    She has taken a little joke too seriously. Pathans are hard-working and intelligent people for which they are respected throughout Pakistan.


  • faryal usman
    Apr 27, 2013 - 3:50PM

    “If he is a Khan, he must be Pathan, and we all know the Pathan jokes.” People the point she is trying to make is, that both Pathans and Khans are stereotyped..Why you all missing the wood for the trees?


  • Realist Tanoli
    Apr 27, 2013 - 5:26PM

    Nusrat fateh Ali Khan is NOT a Pathan, neither is Amir Khan.
    Even Ayub Khan is not ethnically a pathan, he was a Tanoli.
    Rajputs have Kha’n in their names, so if u think Rai Ahmed Khan Kharral was a Pathan you’re an ignorant with no knowledge about different castes in the country. Recommend

  • IBMrunstheCasteSystem
    Apr 27, 2013 - 6:30PM

    NFAK was Hazara. FACT.

    Amir Khan is Punjabi Rajpooooot (janjua) Of Matore.


  • Acceptthefacts
    Apr 27, 2013 - 6:35PM

    @ Ameen.

    Her point and that other man who said

    ““While stereotyping Pathans, we tend to forget that all the greatest people in every field are Khans,”

    is Totally False.

    Amir Khan isnt a Pashtun, but even if he was (and ive never seen 1 world class pashtun boxer…ever!)

    Floyd Mayweather is the best, and he is of African-American Slave origin.

    Black fighters dominate the sport, Ali, Tyson, RJJ, SR robinson..etc.etc Not Pashtuns, or amir “king”/warrior” Khan, of warrior castes. lol


  • I-Khan
    Apr 27, 2013 - 7:37PM

    “If he is a Khan, he must be Pathan, and we all know the Pathan jokes.”
    This is an old story now , one can see Pakhtoon Legends in every walk of Life


  • hamza
    Apr 27, 2013 - 9:09PM

    @Concerned Sindhi:
    my respectable (sindhi)
    First of all , you please read it, again .. the writer is not saying that pathans are superior than others i think he is just trying to explain and to show you and to every reader
    that all of pakistanies are equal than why others are laughing on pathans on many ocassions


  • Ayesha
    Apr 28, 2013 - 2:14PM

    What the article meant to say IS that our society does stereotype on the very title “KHAN” as well. So yeah we need to agree on that. Non the less should have included the famous poet Ahmed Faraz, Shahid Afridi Qadir Khan as well…

    P.S who would in their right mind think IMRAN KHAN isn’t a pashtoon??


  • Khuram Khan
    Apr 29, 2013 - 3:49AM

    MY NAME IS KHAN AND I’m Not an Akhroot………..


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