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The Art of the Shahnameh: Introducing Iran's Epic Poem to a New Audience

25/09/2014 12:44 BST | Updated 24/11/2014 10:59 GMT

An integral part of Persian civilisation, which stretches back several millennia, it's only right that the Shahnameh, the epic poem by Iran's national poet Ferdowsi, should be given a place within the sphere of international culture, just as Homer's Illiad, Dante's Divine Comedy, Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet and many other of mans creative expressions from world history have.

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Photos by Ben Mirza

In 2013, a New York based Iranian artist Hamid Rahmanian, with Quantuck Press, published The Shahnameh: Epic of the Persian Kings, translated by Dr Ahmad Sadri. The book was festooned with evocative illustrations that told the story of Iran's mythical past, the rise and fall of kings, grand romances, epic battles, the trials and tribulations faced by a rising empire. There have been just a handful of translations of The Shahnameh into English, dating back to the 1930's, but none of them did justice to Ferdowsi's mammoth tome.

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Photos by Ben Mirza

What Rahmanian did was take inspiration from contemporary methods of storytelling, cinema being a key influence, along with the influence of Ferdowsi himself, who in his creation of the Shahnameh retold the ancient myths and stories of Iran's birth as a civilisation to be reckoned with.

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Photos by Ben Mirza

As the varied influences of modern technology, ancient art and storytelling solidified, Rahmanian fashioned together a book which finally brought Ferdowsi's literary magic to life, with all the visual splendour that was so lacking in previous translations. In turn it has ignited the imagination of modern readers and brought the talent of Ferdowsi to an entirely new audience.

The Pop-Up Shahnameh

With the success of Hamid Rahmanian and Dr Ahmad Sadri's boundary pushing invocation of this much respected classic, a new idea began to germinate. The greatest stories appeal to a wide audience, irrespective of age, class etc, so Rahmanian had the idea to have stories from The Shahnameh retold in pop-up book form. It is the first time any Iranian story will be told in this way.

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Photos courtesy of Hamid Rahmanian

With a desire to introduce the children and grandchildren of Iranian's to their rich cultural heritage, Rahmanian has teamed up with the award-winning paper engineer Simon Arizpe, a senior paper engineer at Robert Sabuda Studio and founding member of The American Design Club, to create the first in what will hopefully be a series of stories, starting off with Zahhak: The Legend of the Serpent King.

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Photos courtesy of Hamid Rahmanian

In this marriage of talents, Rahmanian and Arizpe hope to create something that will have a long lasting impression within the world of children's literature and beyond; an entirely original concept, the stories will be orchestrated with a fine melding of art and words, with special attention paid to the illustrations, as the more favourable element to young children.

Rahmanian and Arizpe are currently looking for donations to continue creating the first book, which if they succeed in raising the sufficient funds, will once more ignite the people's imagination and nudge Persian culture further into the consciousness of the mainstream. You can find out more details by visiting the Fictionville Studio website.