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Our panel event at the House of Illustration had an air of celebration about it! A 70-strong audience and six wonderful panellists came together to celebrate Tiny Owl illustrator Ehsan Abdollahi’s arrival in the UK last week, for an evening of discussion about art, borders and intercultural collaboration.

The panel was chaired by Erica Jarnes, managing director of the Poetry Translation Centre. The panellists sharing the stage with Ehsan Abdollahi were illustrator James Mayhew, author Beverley Naidoo, translator Azita Rassi, and Tiny Owl’s very own Delaram Ghanimifard.

Firstly, to introduce Ehsan and his work to the audience, Beverley Naidoo and Azita Rassi took it in turns to read from When I Coloured In the World in both English and Farsi, while Ehsan’s illustrations were projected.

What followed was a wonderfully lively discussion. Ehsan, Azita and Delaram related the story of the visa refusal, and the extraordinary public support and media coverage of the #visaforAbdollahi campaign that followed. Beverley Naidoo explained why she was moved to write a letter to the Guardian by the chilling parallels she saw with apartheid South Africa which banned people and books in order to stop dialogue and communication of ideas.

All the artists talked about the joys of participating in intercultural artistic collaborations. Beverley Naidoo and Marjan Vafaian are currently working together on a new book for Tiny Owl; James Mayhew has created live illustrations for music performances; and of course Ehsan himself has worked with Pippa Goodhart to create A Bottle of Happiness. He said that meeting Pippa at Edinburgh International Book Festival this week was one of the things he was most looking forward to about being in the UK. (The others included seeing red phone boxes and the Buckingham Palace Guards, and eating fish and chips!)

After the panel there was a little time for questions. One audience member asked, is banning books ever right? Beverley Naidoo suggested there was still a place for colonial-era literature if and only if the context in which they were written was explained. James Mayhew added that banning books for political reasons can prevent young readers from finding and accepting their identities and their place in the world.

Finally, there was a chance for the audience to socialise and meet the panellists over drinks, and Ehsan signed copies of his books in his own wonderful style!

Several people asked for the recipe for the Persian soft drink that was served, sekanjabin. You can find one here!

This was a wonderfully interesting, enlightening and hopeful evening, with a strong message of the importance and power of art and intercultural dialogue. To say thank you to our delightful chair and panellists, we presented each of them with a gift bag containing their very own knitted Tiny Owl!

Erica Jarnes, James Mayhew, Beverley Naidoo, Azita Rassi and Ehsan Abdollahi with their knitted owls!

Apart from being a celebration of Ehsan’s work and the successful campaign, this event was a way for us also to say thank you to everyone who got involved with the campaign, whether by tweeting, sharing, writing to MPs, or buying Ehsan’s books in protest. This quite literally could not have happened without your help!

The following day, there was a chance for children to get creative too: Ehsan also hosted an art workshop at the Parasol Unit. The children drew birds and things that made them happy, then created their very own bottles of happiness filled with glitter, feathers and their favourite things!

Now Ehsan and Azita’s events at Edinburgh International Book Festival are in full swing. Keep up with their activities on our Twitter feed!

Keep an eye out also for our podcast of this event, coming soon.

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Posted in Blog