Omair Khan on Educating Pakistan on Pop Culture

Educating Pakistan on Pop Culture

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Omair Khan on Educating Pakistan on Pop Culture

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Omair Khan on Educating Pakistan on Pop Culture

Consuming Pop Culture and attending Comic Con Conventions is something Western and, dare I say, Americanised Cultures take for granted. Can you think about the last Comic Con you attended and seriously think to yourself: What if there was less than 1000 people at the next one?

Omair Khan can. In fact, he lives it. A few years ago, Omair noticed a gap in the Pakistan market around Pop Culture, Cosplaying and Education on Geek Culture. In response, he created The Sabeen Foundation to help with different misconceptions and stigma attached to Geek Culture in Pakistan.

Here’s my Interview with him.

Anthony Pollock: Thank you for taking the time to chat with me this week. Please tell the readers a bit about yourself and the work you do.

Omair Khan: Thanks for having me! About myself: I’m Omair Khan I’m the founder of the Sabeen Foundation and a cosplayer from Pakistan. I’m a marketing major and a big fan of comic books, TV shows, Anime, and Video Games. Anything geeky, I’ve been exposed to it at some point and made it a big part of my life.

As for the work we do, at The Sabeen Foundation we are committed to introducing aspects of geek culture to the people of Pakistan while also serving to educate people regarding the different misconceptions and the stigma attached to geek culture in the country.

Anthony Pollock: Tell me a bit about the inspiration behind The Sabeen Foundation.

Omair Khan: The Idea had been in my head for many years. It started back in university where I would get some weird looks just because in class I’d find ways to link things back to the geeky hobbies I had. I once used the trading card game market to explain how demand and supply work to a friend and he was just baffled. Most of my time in University was spent like this and in my final year, as a project, I wrote a research paper to get to the bottom of it for a sociology class called “Stigmatization Of Geek Culture In Pakistan”.

While researching that paper I learned that I wasn’t the only one who felt the stigma of the hobbies we loved so much. I used the project as an opportunity to highlight it but despite getting a good score, I guess everything fell on deaf ears. We had conventions in the region but the media doesn’t highlight them in the best light. Over the years, I co-founded Rundown Universe with my brother and some friends. We did some good work but sadly ended up becoming dormant until recently.

During a trip to Dubai for Middle East Film & Comic-Con, I saw how much impact at how “acceptance” can have on a community. Where the cons in Pakistan max out at
1000 attendees at best; Dubai had larger venues and filled to the brim. I decided there that I
would work to normalize geek culture in Pakistan the best that I can.

Anthony Pollock: How did you get into cosplaying and what is your origin story?

Omair Khan: Well, my twin brother and I first got introduced to the concept of cosplaying back in 2009 while we were living in Canberra. Some comic-con has just happened (Can’t remember which one) and pictures were circulating on the internet and we happened to come across them. We never had a chance to cosplay since we didn’t have conventions in Pakistan at the time.

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That changed in 2013; when we had a Halloween party at school and we both took the opportunity to dress up as our favourite Horror movie slashers: Freddy from Nightmare on Elm Street and Jason from Friday the 13th. It was a good time and mere months later, we got our first major comic con in February of 2014 called Twin Con. We both looked through our closets and put together outfits for characters from Yu-Gi-Oh! and went to the event and from there we cosplayed every year since and the rest is history.

Anthony Pollock: Are there any well-known cosplayers that inspire you? Who are they?

Omair Khan: Some very talented and well-known cosplayers have served as major sources of inspiration for me. Kamui cosplay for one is probably the most notable. Been following her for work for a few years now and I hope to reach that level of crafting and detail in my cosplays someday. Hoping I get to meet or talk to her someday, maybe get some tips.

Anthony Pollock: What are your biggest obstacles when it comes to Sabeen Foundation? How do you overcome them?

Omair Khan: Honestly, The biggest obstacle we’ve had is getting sponsorships for events. We’ve been partnering with Rundown Universe to do events as of late and though the events have been a success; we’ve mostly had to pay for them out of our own pocket. This includes renting out a venue, getting board games for the event, and more. We haven’t exactly been able to overcome this yet but we’re confident it’ll work out soon.

Another problem we had was quarantine. With the pandemic looming over all of us, it became
difficult to have events. Thankfully, we moved over to digital mediums and had a host of
activities for people feeling the lockdown blues. We did 3 – 4 TTRPG games a week, with movie
nights and online talks and seminars on various aspects of geek culture.

Anthony Pollock: Cosplaying is about dressing up as much as it is about putting yourself on display and depending on the Con could mean you’re posing for hundreds to thousands of
people. How do you overcome any Cosplayer related anxiety?

Omair Khan: This is something that did hit me for a time. When we went to attend the first TwinCon back in 2014 I felt a lot of anxiety. It was about being put on display but more than that, I was worried about being embarrassed by not having my cosplay be recognized by the people. It’s kind of hard to explain but the early days of cosplaying for me were quite the ordeal.
Something that helped me overcome the anxiety was the thought of being able to blend in with
the others in cosplay. Being among other people in the community made me feel safe and I
guess that’s something that I want to promote. A sense of community.

Anthony Pollock: Many of us creators work on projects outside of our 9-5 jobs. Do you have any advice for balancing careers with passion projects/side hustles?

Omair Khan: Yes, being in the same camp; I wish I had someone to give me advice in my early days. That being said, there are two things that I learned that helped me with the whole situation.
1) Follow through on that passion project. Don’t give up just because you can’t find the time to
do it. Give a little bit to it every day whenever you can and over time, however slow, you’ll end
up proud of what you made.
2) There will always be time for that video game, TV show, or anything else. If you find yourself
wondering if you should work on your passion project or catch that show: pick the passion
project. Give the project time, even if its an hour, then get to another activity to relax.

Anthony Pollock: I notice some of your Cosplayers appeared for DC Fandome. Is DC your favorite
comic book production house?

Omair Khan: Yes, I want to take this opportunity to shout out, Alpha & Omega Cosplay, The Cosplaying Dentist, Leka Cosplays, and MAS Cosplay for their Feature on DC Fandome and making all of us proud!

I love DC, I grew up with a lot of batman and superman comics that we would find at the weekly
flea market we had in Karachi back when I was a kid. Something I don’t tell a lot of people but
my parents love to remind me about now is that my brother and I would always watch the VHS
of Batman and Robin all day and all night. We were kids but I guess I enjoyed it back then. It’s
more of a guilty pleasure now.

But I don’t play favorites. I also grew up with X-men and Spiderman comics I used to dress up as cyclops when I was a kid (When I wasn’t a power ranger). But DC was easily my Gateway to the comic book world and it will always have a special place in my heart because of it.

Anthony Pollock: Do you have any upcoming events/projects/releases you would like to discuss?

Omair Khan: Well, we just partnered with Otaku Next Nepal to present a virtual cosplay and artists showcase to present in the DCFandome format. We’re pretty excited about it and we hope that it’ll be the success we think it will be.

Apart from that, I’m writing a book on the growth of popular/geek culture in Pakistan. It’s
essentially going to be an extension of the paper I mentioned earlier. It’s been a project I’ve
wanted to work on for many months and I’m happy to have started recently after doing a lot of
research and gathering data.

Anthony Pollock: Thank you for taking the time to do this! Where can readers find you and your

Omair Khan: Once again, Thanks for taking the time to have me for this interview. People can get updates from our website or our Facebook page . We’re
working some stuff that will help our cause and I can’t wait to start making announcements

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