During a short holiday break, where internet access was joyfully reduced, on the occasions when a signal was achieved I discovered a disturbing story.
The artist, Ehsan Abdollahi, who had been booked to speak at Edinburgh International Book Festival had been denied a visa to enter the UK.
Ehsan’s work first came to my attention when the wonderful publisher, Tiny Owl, sent me a copy of When I Coloured the World by Ahmadreza Ahmadi, illustrated by Ehsan. When I Coloured the World is such a beautiful book, about colour, about peace, about so many things, with spaces in text and images for so much conversation to arise.
The decline of the visa came with Kafkaesque excuses. Ehsan is divorced. The suggestion is that with no one dependent on him he might chose not to return once in Edinburgh. Perhaps the publishing world in the UK might prove just too attractive.
But Ehsan has a full time job, is published in the UK and can continue to be so.
Ehsan would have been coming to the UK to talk to children and adults about his wonderful books, to meet with artists and authors, to share ideas, to exchange thoughts. But it would seem that while deploring the antics of Donald Trump and his ‘Muslim ban’ the UK home office has been quietly emulating it. For this is the third year that Tiny Owl authors and illustrators have been denied visas.
In a world that is increasingly dangerous we need exchanges of ideas. Children have the right to meet those who create the books they love. And we have so much to learn from artists from all around the world. This denial of free movement echoes as Beverley Naidoo states in her letter to The Guardian, the days of apartheid in South Africa.
Read the article in The Guardian about the denial of the visa. It makes one ashamed to be British. This obviously intelligent, creative and hard working man, having provided information about his finances is then questioned about whether the money is really his, as if his salary as a teacher and his income from publishing is some kind of front. ( And why he should wish to come to the UK and stay for the rich pickings in publishing to be had, well, that’s laughable. )
It’s a sad story. I hope it has a happy ending. If Ehsan is denied entry to the country then James Mayhew and I will begin our event by talking briefly about When I Coloured the World, and I would ask that all others involved in the festival do the same. But I hope that the British Embassy will see the light, see the colour, and understand that culture builds bridges and that allowing the free movement of culture might just lead to a better world, a better understanding of each other.
Tiny Owl work hard to build bridges between cultures, between writers and artists and children and dreamers. I love their books. I love what they do.
It’s a small world. Tiny Owl have a big heart.