Photography can show the truth, omit and alter it

Afshar is a native of Iran and moved to Australia in 2007. She began her work as a journalist in Tehran and was initially interested in acting.

The staging and the creative intervention will become key elements in her art.

Even in her first and essentially “documentary” series, you are able to sense an acceptance of the ambiguity inherent in still photography, as well as an interest in creating a more compelling reality (and possibly authentic) than a somber reportage is able of.

Afshar is now among Australia’s most prominent photographers. It’s not a shock. It is Hoda Afshar. Hoda Afshar: A Curve is Broken Line in the Art Gallery of New South Wales is her first major show of the year.

What unites her vastly varied work is her concern for transparency: who is excluded from it, what’s seen by media, and the ways photography can show, obscure, and alter the truth.

Hoda Afshar Twofold 2014, 2023 edition from the series ‘In The Exodus I love you more’ 2014. Ongoing Digital printing on vinyl dimensions for installation flexible (c) Hoda Afshar, image courtesy of the artist.

A large portion of her work addresses the most pressing humanitarian issues of our times, such as statelessness, war diaspora, oppression, and corruption. She is adamant about challenging stereotypes. We don’t get to see the passive victim or a closed narrative. We are exposed to new perspectives that could inspire us to reconsider our world.

Read more: Waqt al-their: Time of Change explores the diversity of Muslim Australian identities.

Familiarity and distance

The show is composed of six pieces of work. The first was born out of the death of her dad in Iran.

The Departure I Love You More (2014to) is an evocation of her native country, shaped by her experiences of familiarity and separation. The artist is both at home and also searching as an outsider. Images may suggest an intimate relationship, but at other times, a distance similar to that is created when you hold a camera up towards your eyes.

Hoda Afshar “Grace” 2014, from the series ‘In The Exodus I want to be with you forever’ 2014-ongoing Photographic print made of pigment 47 x 59cm (c) Hoda Afshar, image by the artist.

Afshar discusses her experience with the process of migration and, as she told me, aims to “dismantle the idea of there being one way of seeing Iran.”

The final image of this series shows the disappearance of a woman’s face within an artistic Persian miniature.

In the adjacent room In the adjoining room, In the Turn (2023) comprises a collection of large, framed photos of Iranian women who reside in Australia. A number of images depict women braiding each other’s hair. The women are not identifiable apart from the activist and artist Mahla Karimian, who is seen flying with two flying doves.

Hoda Afshar’s ‘Untitled #4’, part of the series ‘In Turn 2023’, photographic pigment print of 169×128 cm (c) Hoda Afshar, image by the artist.

The movement was sparked due to protests by a feminist-led movement, which was ignited by the tragic death of Mahsa Jina Amini, who was the Iranian Kurdish woman arrested in September 2022 after she was not adhering to Iran’s strict female dress code. The protests erupted in the streets with women shouting, “Women, Life, Freedom!” and “Say her name!” in defiance of the authorities, who reacted with violence in retaliation.

Afshar was watching her home country from a distance. She claims she was looking to “share voices the media was ignoring.” She was inspired by images of women braiding their hair in public. This obnoxious behavior recalls the custom that is common to the female Kurdish fighters in training for combat.

But these images aren’t threatening. They’re peaceful and calm, expressing that solidarity through grief, optimism, and determination. When she wrote these “visual letters” to her Iranian sisters, Afshar risked long-term exile from the country where she was born. Birth.

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