Subverting the idyllic with tales of desperation
By BRONWYN WATSON
As a young artist growing up in Iran, Hoda Afshar was identified from the get-go as a talented photographer. She was 23 when the World Press Photo Foundation selected her as one of Iran’s top 10 young documentary photographers.
For the past 12 years, Afshar has been living in Australia, and during that time she has attracted other accolades. Last year, for instance, she won the Bowness Photography Prize and the Sotheby’s Australia People’s Choice Award for her portrait of Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish-Iranian journalist, writer, filmmaker and asylum-seeker. Earlier this year, Boochani’s memoir, No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison, won the Victorian Prize for Literature among other awards. In 2018 Afshar visited Manus Island and, using photography and film, produced a series of stills and a film, Remain, featuring Boochani and other detainees who remain on Manus Island despite the detention centre’s closure in October 2017. Remain is showing at the UQ Art Museum in Brisbane and it takes an unflinchingly political look at the ramifications of national policy. The asylum-seekers, for instance, look directly at the camera while telling their stories of the desperation that led to suicides, swallowing razor blades, shampoo or washing powder. These confronting stories are dramatically contrasted with the seemingly idyllic environment of the lush tropical rainforest. At the UQ Art Museum, senior curator Peta Rake says Afshar’s film documents “the precarious tightrope of existence that the stateless men of Manus Island now inhabit. The film’s pathos treads a thin but at times invisible narrative between the men who are no longer living and those who remain on Manus Island, unable to leave … Afshar as director and Boochani as assistant producer intelligently weave a poetic narrative throughout the film, one at odds with the news reportage we have of Manus; a violent island out of sight, out of mind. The focus in Afshar’s film, however, is on subverting the idyllic — achieved through the stories of these men overlaid with stunning and eerie landscapes. Remain is highly urgent for our times, and a must-watch for all Australians.” Hoda Afshar is also exhibiting in National Anthem at Buxton Contemporary, Melbourne, until July 7. Hoda Afshar, Remain, 2018. Collection of the University of Queensland, purchased 2018. On display until August 31, UQ Art Museum, University of Queensland, St Lucia, Brisbane.