“It is one of those places that seems to have been carved out of a dream.”
Just off the Iranian coast in the vast waters of the Persian Gulf and the Oman Sea sits the picturesque Island of Hormuz, an alluring place jewelled with crimson sands that seep into turquoise waters; turning them pink where the ebbs and flows of the tide lap at the edges of the Island’s rim; towered by ancient wind-chiselled cliffs screening spectacular valleys and rock formations etched in the landscape over centuries by the travelling winds.
Melbourne-based Iranian documentary photographer Hoda Afshar explores the world through the lens of her camera, with a focus on bringing issues of visibility and representation of the marginalised into view and revealing hidden truths. Inspired by her travels, since 2015, to the islands of Hormuz and Qeshm, both situated in the Strait of Hormuz, which is also a bustling trade route for the export of oil and gas, Afshar has created a breathtaking series of photographic works for Speak the Wind at Monash Gallery of Art in Melbourne.
The magnificence of Mother Nature’s beauty is not the only intrigue for the artist in her recollections of these Persian oases – for the islands of Hormuz and Qeshm are laced with mystery, ritual, and superstition born from the belief that there are good and bad winds passing through these channels. The wind, known as zār, is believed to have the power to possess a person with a demon-like spirit that can cause harm and sickness. Ritualistic healing practices using incense, herbs, music, and body movement are performed by the people who inhabit these islands to cast away the evil spirits from the minds and bodies of afflicted souls.
Through this captivating body of work, Afshar is looking to visualise “another aspect of the issue of visibility; that is, in approaching certain realities and experiences that cannot be seen or recorded, but only sensed, or perhaps glimpsed indirectly – in fleeting fragments and with the eye of the imagination – like the wind as it catches hold of a piece of a dancing fabric.”
Whether it is the vision of the rich red earth winding its way through variegated shades of rust and peach-hued rocks and craggy crevices sculpted over time by the rushing winds; the brightly coloured and intricately patterned textiles of women’s traditional costume that conceals their bodies and faces; the billowing swathe of fabric given up to sculptural form by the unseeable grasp of the wind; the shredded remains of a book, its text disrupted; or the strange silhouettes likening human form protruding outwards from the hardened earth, rocks and boulders, we can appreciate the notion that the spirit of the winds roam the Islands of Hormuz and Qeshm. “It is one of those places that seems to have been carved out of a dream,” Afshar affirms.
“Whilst not a documentary in any ordinary sense,” says Afshar, “the work does attempt to use a documentary lens to explore the profound relationships between this community and its beliefs and the landscape they inhabit, and the interplay between forces–as real though invisible as the wind – and how these act upon our imaginations.”
Kirsty Francis is a Sydney-based arts writer.
Monash Gallery of Art
2 April to 26 June 2022
All images courtesy the artist, Milani Gallery, Brisbane and Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne