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Ehsan Abdollahi’s self-portrait with his declined application

We’re disappointed and frustrated to announce that Ehsan Abdollahi, who was due to visit the UK this summer, has had his visa application declined. He was booked for several children’s events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and in London, all of which now have to be cancelled.

Ehsan Abdollahi

We are especially saddened that children will consequently miss the chance to participate in a number of art workshops run by this unique artist.

Tiny Owl had secured funding from the various event hosts that would have fully covered the costs of Ehsan’s visit. He supplied all required documents for the application and had already travelled from Iran to Dubai in order to await the embassy’s decision. In spite of this, his application was refused on a number of petty technicalities.

Above, you can see the artwork he has created after this experience: a self-portrait with his declined application, and an emotive caption inspired by When I Coloured In the World: ‘I rubbed out the words No Entry” and wrote with all my colours: happiness, flying, kindness, hope, love.’

This is the third consecutive year that Tiny Owl’s authors and illustrators have been denied entry to the UK in order to host children’s events at book festivals. In 2016 Marjan Vafaian, illustrator of Bijan and Manije and The Parrot and the Merchant, had to cancel appearances at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and in London, and the launch event for Bijan and Manije took place without her. And in 2015 an application was declined for Ali Seidabadi, author of A Rainbow in my Pocket and Tiny Owl’s Persian editor, meaning that he too had to pull out of events in London and Edinburgh.

Illustration by Ehsan Abdollahi from A Bottle of Happiness

Janet Smyth, an organiser at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, wrote: ‘We, at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, have been working with Tiny Owl for the last 4 years. We have, over that time, programmed around 6 of their author and illustrators and had, subsequently, to cancel 2 events due to failure to secure entrance Visas to the UK. One of these events had the support of the Alwaleed Centre at the University of Edinburgh which is an organisation that promotes understanding of the Islamic World. Tiny Owl always have an excellent number of their authors and illustrators that they think will work in Edinburgh. The event content that they bring is always well thought out and interactive for their young readers. These events form an important part of our family programming. For us, at Edinburgh, the inclusion of Tiny Owl in our programme is very important. We are an international festival and bring authors from around the globe. For the children’s programme this can be challenging as less than 1% of UK publishing for children is work in translation. Books are the most direct route to the understanding of ourselves and others and therefore introducing children to as many cultures, stories and different lives as possible is vital. Tiny Owl offer a unique opportunity to invite fascinating Iranian writers and illustrators that it would be very difficult to discover otherwise’.

All of these artists are respected and well-known, and have won awards for their work. It is festival attendees, children and adults alike, who miss out by these events being cancelled. We are writing to our local MP to see if anything can be done; however, Ehsan himself has been informed that he will not be able to appeal. We hope that for future visits his application may be more successful.

Ehsan Abdollahi is the illustrator of When I Coloured In the World, by Ahmadreza Ahmadi, and A Bottle of Happiness, by Pippa Goodhart.


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