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Ehsan’s beautiful illustration in response to the difficulties he faces in obtaining his visa
Ehsan’s stunning freedom inspired illustration, featured on the back cover of The Freedom Papers

This beautiful illustration is Iranian illustrator Ehsan Abdollahi’s response to the frustrating delay in the process of obtaining his visa, so that he can attend this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival. Ehsan has been named illustrator in residence for the event, and despite providing all of the required documentation and information, has yet to have his application for a visitor’s visa approved. His illustration here is a self-portrait, similar to his illustration for The Freedom Papers, for which is artwork is featured on the back cover. The Freedom Papers is a collaborative work by 51 authors from around the world, tying into the festival’s theme of Freedom and Equality. With now a dozen authors and illustration having had their visa applications denied, this theme seems all the more poignant and relevant. Earlier today, Tiny Owl Publishing shared this tweet:

So frustrating that we’re STILL waiting to hear about the visa for fab , Illustrator in Residence . Why making it such a protracted process? Why should it be so heart-wrenching and stressful for a well-known illustrator?

Ehsan Abdollahi, this year’s illustrator in residence for Edinburgh Book Festival

This is the fourth year that authors and illustrators working with Tiny Owl Publishing have faced difficulties with obtaining their visa to attend the festival. Last year, Ehsan’s visa was initially refused, and he was told he would not be able to attend. However, this caused public outcry, media attention, and overwhelming support for his cause, leading to the decision being overturned, and him being able to attend. This year, the protracted process of obtaining his visa has again led to attention and outcry. Beverley Naidoo, author of Cinderella of the Nileshared a letter with The Guardian in response to the difficult process. The illustrator of Cinderella of the Nile, Marjan Vafaeian, was also put through the same long delays as Ehsan, and only received her approval on Monday 13th August. In her response, Beverley shares how she would be show solidarity at her event if Marjan was unable to attend:

If she is not there, I shall have an empty chair in which she will be our guest of honour. The empty chair will reflect how we too, as artists and audiences, are being treated with Kafkaesque disdain. On what grounds may we not meet and engage with artists like Marjan?

There has also been further coverage in The Guardian, with Tiny Owl co-founder and publisher Delaram Ghanimifard being quoted in saying:

It is very difficult and it becomes more difficult each year. But when you have a publisher paying for everything, guaranteeing you will only stay a week and you’ve even done it before and returned home, yet you are still denied – this just shows how difficult the process is in general.

Nick Barley, the director of Edinburgh International Book Festival has said in The Sunday Herald:

“It is unquestionably worse than it was four years ago. There have always been challenges: but now it is a systematic problem. The real problem is the humiliation that these people are facing”


Ehsan’s ‘Bottle of Happiness’, created at Edinburgh Book Festival 2017


Ehsan has illustrated three books for Tiny Owl so far, Thinker: My Puppy Poet and MeA Bottle of Happiness, and When I Coloured in The World He is currently working on a new project with us. He is scheduled for appearances at events for  as well as appearing at The Freedom Finale, the closing concert of the whole festival. We continue to wait hopefully for good news regarding the outcome of this long wait, but hope that this demoralising process will soon be changed so that artists, authors and illustrators are able to visit events and share their cultures without the fear of such a humiliating ordeal.

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