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Rashin Kheiriyeh speaks with audience members.

Celebrated Iranian illustrator presents her artwork for the Roshan Institute for Persian Studies.

On Wednesday, November 6, the University of Maryland Roshan Institute for Persian Studies hosted Rashin Kheiriyeh, a celebrated illustrator of children’s literature and current illustrator and designer at  the New York Times. Kheiriyeh was born in Iran and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphics from the Azad University of Tehran and a Master of Fine Arts in Graphics at the Alzahra University of Tehran. She has published over 40 books and has received almost as many awards, among them the Golden Apple of the Biennial of Illustration Bratislava (BIB) in 2011 and the Bologna Book Fair competition in 2013. Her next project will entail illustrating three stories out of the time-honored folktale collection One Thousand and One Nights for a future exhibit at the Library of Congress.

Wednesday’s event began with opening remarks by Fatemeh Keshavarz, director of the Roshan Center. Kheiriyeh then introduced herself and showed slides of her major works to the faculty and students in attendance. “I tried to illustrate this book in a traditional way,” she said of A Head that Remained Hatless, an Iranian children’s book written by Mohammed Reza Yusefi. “When I want to illustrate Persian stories, I use some Persian elements.” Kheiriyeh finds inspiration in Iran’s rich cultural history, unique classical painting style and folk music. “I love listening to classical Persian music while I’m painting,” she said. Kheiriyeh said that she likes to experiment with different media, but finds herself drawn to three in particular: children’s books, TV, and newspapers. Of the three, she likes children’s books the best. She finds satisfaction in taking a complicated theme and making it “sweet” and easy for young readers to grasp through her “funny, simple” characters. It usually takes Kheiriyeh about three months to think about the story, try out different artistic styles and techniques, and formulate a plan.

Kheiriyeh’s talent has taken her far beyond the borders of her home country. In 2009, she produced the illustrations for If I Became a Mayor, a South Korean children’s book about a young girl with ambitious dreams for her city. “She feels so sad about poverty, and she asks the mayor to solve this problem,” Kheiriyeh explained. In 2010, she illustrated La Sopa de Nada (“The Soup of Nothing”), which was published in Spain. One member of the audience at Wednesday’s event asked Kheiriyeh what makes her able to communicate so successfully in different cultures. “I travel a lot. That helps me a lot, actually,” Kheiriyeh answered. “It’s not easy for the illustrator who is not originally from that culture.” To communicate effectively to children, Kheiriyeh tries to style her drawings “in an ‘international’ way.”

Yet for all of Kheiriyeh’s travels, she always finds her way back home to Iran. Many of her artworks are based on fables and poems by Jalal al-Din Rumi, the 13th-century Persian poet and mystic often simply known as Rumi. In 2013, Kheiriyeh illustrated A Tale of Two Parrots, her first book to be published in the United States, which was based on the Rumi poem “The Parrot and the Merchant.” Kheiriyeh also loves to animate, and showed the audience “The Cunning Tailor,” a short animation for children based on Rumi’s fable “The Turk and the Tailor.” In the original story, a Turkish man visiting Iran hears stories of a malicious tailor that cheats people out of their fabric by distracting them with tall tales. The Turk is incredulous, but when he visits the tailor, he, too, falls for the same antics. Kheiriyeh’s animation is designed with traditional Persian qualities and features classical Persian music in the background. Subtitles in English provide the non-Farsi speaker with the dismal moral of the story at the animation’s end:

The young man, idle dreamer

The tailor, deceptive world

The fabric, your life

Left to the scissors of fate.

For more on Rashin Kheiriyeh and her works, visit rashinart.com. For information on the University of Maryland’s Roshan Institute for Persian Studies, visit sllc.umd.edu/persian. 

Samantha Suplee ('14, Spanish Language & Literature and History)
SLLC Public Relations and Media Intern