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Winner of William & Winifred Bowness Photography Prize 2018

MGA Foundation is thrilled to announce that Melbourne‐based, Iranian‐born artist Hoda Afshar is the winner of the $30,000 William and Winifred Bowness Photography Prize for her photograph ‘Portrait of Behrouz Boochani, Manus Island’ (2018).

The judging panel – Dr Michael Brand, Director of the Art Gallery of NSW; Melbourne‐based artist Dr David Rosetzky; and Anouska Phizacklea, MGA Director – made the winning selection from 50 finalists whose work reflect the diversity and depth of photographic practice in Australia.

The judges were unanimous in their decision to award Afshar the coveted prize, agreeing that the portrait, with its immense visual, political and emotional presence, is worthy of attention and reward. An exhibition of all finalists is now on display at MGA until 18 November 2018. Gallery visitors are encouraged to vote for their own favourite in the Sotheby’s Australia People’s Choice Award.

Exhibition: 29 September – 18 November 2018

‘Afshar’s portrait of Behrouz Boochani is compelling and powerful. It is a haunting portrait that speaks to the history of photography. Boochani’s gaze, the fire that burns behind him, the way his body is positioned – it has an intensity and power that is undeniable. Embedded within Afshar’s practice is a deep understanding of photography, its history and how powerful photography can be.’ – Anouska Phizacklea, Director MGA

‘The judges were very happy to recognise this photograph as a most worthy winner of the prize. It’s a great work of art—a photograph that doesn’t just preserve the dignity of the subject, but shows the viewer what has happened to this person, how this person has gone from being a writer and film maker to becoming a refugee, and what that has done to him as an individual. We think it’s wonderful that this one photograph could show this, and hopefully connect with a very broad audience in Australia.’ – Dr Michael Brand, Director Art Gallery of NSW.

‘Hoda Afshar’s haunting and confronting portrait of Behrouz Boochami has a sense of urgency and purpose to it. Through its performative and collaborative process, it questions ideas of authorship and truth in documentary photography, it blurs distinctions between photographic genres and also, importantly – presents a human face to the horrific situation endured by the men detained on Manus Island as a result of Australia’s refugee policy. It is a visually striking and sophisticated photograph that addresses a series of complex questions at the forefront of current debates in art, culture and politics today.’ – Dr David Rosetzky, artist

‘Winning the Bowness Photography Prize with this portrait of Behrouz Boochani is not only a glorious moment in my career as an artist, but also a confirmation of the trust that I have always placed in the power of art to change the world through changing the way we see it. The Bowness Prize is a record of our current times, as seen through the lens of a group of unique visionaries. The selection of works on display every year shows us what is at stake, and receiving this award is for me a testament to the fact that what is at stake today is our humanity. I hope that winning this prize will contribute, in some way, to redrawing the lines that divide us and those who have been placed outside the safe borders of our human community.’ – Hoda Afshar, 2018 Bowness Photogrpahy Prize recipient

Artist statement: Behrouz is a Kurdish‐Iranian journalist, writer and filmmaker. He fled Iran in 2013 seeking asylum, and arrived on the shores of Australia on his thirtieth birthday – four days after the Rudd Government announced its offshore detention plan.

I sent this portrait to Behrouz after I returned from Manus in April 2018, and called him. I said, this is you, Behrouz, with your passion, your fire, and your writer’s hands. It symbolises your resistance. He heard this, and paused. You are right, he said. But I do not see myself in this picture. I only see a refugee. Someone whose identity has been taken from him. A bare life, standing there beyond the borders of Australia, waiting and staring. He fell silent, then said ... This image scares me.

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