It has often been difficult to trace the development of early children’s literature, widely practiced in the form of stories and songs for children, before printing was invented. Even after the spread of literacy and publishing systems, it took a while for societies to produce books specifically designed for children. In Europe, early children’s books were mere adaptations of stories intended for adults. Tracing the history of children’s literature in Iran is just as difficult. For in spite of the fact that a large sum of traditional Persian literature consisted of tales with didactic purposes, the absence of printing machinery, scarcity of fine manuscripts which were in possession of the nobility, and low rate of literacy made it more improbable for common children to access these stories by any means other than oral taletellers. A rare and recent attempt to undertake research on the subject started in 1997 by a team of experts including M. H. Mohammadali and Zohreh Ghaeni; a painstaking project that ended in ten volumes of historical enterprise and about 7000 pieces of archived documents, the oldest of which dates back to 1847.
Currently Tehran Museum of Contemporary Arts is hosting an unprecedented public exhibition with the same concerns. Karnameh, Visual Culture of Iranian Children: 1950-1980, an ambitious project by The ABProjects and Studio Kargah, surveys through more than three decades of visual creation for children against the cultural and socio-political backdrop of the second half of the 20th century. Running from 25 May to 15 August 2016 at TMOCA, the exhibition and the accompanying bilingual book of the same title (an archival-research volume of about 441 pages) present a diorama of Iranian children’s literature and arts in the 20th century as they fluctuate between traditional practices and pieces affected by the social milieu of modernity. A joint-project curated by Ali Bakhtiari, Yashar Samimi Mofakham, and Peyman Pourhossein, Karnameh was initiated a few years ago with the goal of archiving the visual heritage of Iranian children after the 1920s. The book strictly follows a chronological order which makes it favorable for researchers, whereas the exhibition’s setting is less restrained and offers options for visitors of various ages from children to elderly. A journey through nine galleries familiarizes the viewer with early illustrations for educational books dating back to 1920s, photo documentaries of the 20th century modernized schools in Iran, as well as the pioneers of image-making and entertainment productions, namely animations and films.
Published in Parsagon: The Persian Literature Review / 21 June 2016
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