Issue 15 Guest Editor Hoda Afshar at the New V&A Photography Centre

Hoda Afshar, Hoda Afshar, Untitled #15 (from Speak the Wind series), 2020. Museum no. PH.1222-2022 © Hoda Afshar

We’re featuring what our Issue 15 guest editors have been up to since the issue was released at Paris Photo in November 2022. Each of our 50 guest editors on the issue selected an image by an artist from our international open call to feature in a spread next to an image of their own in Issue 15. To see their work in the issue, order your copy. Nine works from our guest editor Hoda Afshar’s series Speak the Wind will now be on display in the new V&A Photography Centre in London, opening on the 25th of May 2023.

Through her art practice, Hoda Afshar explores the nature and possibilities of documentary image-making. Working across photography and moving-image, she considers the representation of gender, marginality, and displacement. In her work, she employs processes that disrupt traditional image-making practices, play with the presentation of imagery, or merge aspects of conceptual, staged, and documentary photography.

Hoda Afshar was born in Tehran, Iran. Beginning her career as a documentary photographer in Iran, Hoda has been living in Australia since 2007, where she practices as a visual artist and also lectures in photography and fine art. In 2016, Der Greif featured her series In the Exodus, I love you more - a work about Iran, and Hoda Afshar’s relationship to her homeland; a relationship that has been shaped by the artist’s being away and by the distance that “increases the nearness of all the things to which the memory clings.”

Moving away from traditional modes of documentary photography, Hoda Afshar’s new work Speak the Wind represents a shift from her previous bodies of work. The project is an attempt to picture the unseeable, a visible record of the invisible, seen through the eye of the imagination.

On the islands of the Strait of Hormuz, near the southern coast of Iran, there is a belief that the winds - generally believed to be harmful - can possess a person, causing them to experience illness or disease. As part of a ritual placating the winds’ harmful effects, the islands’ inhabitants practice a ceremony involving incense, music and movement, in which a hereditary cult leader speaks with the wind through the afflicted patient in order to negotiate its exit.

When the artist first visited the islands in 2015, she found herself drawn not only to these distinctive customs practiced by its inhabitants but also to its otherworldly landscapes - the strange valleys and statue-like mountains, themselves sculpted by the wind over many millennia. While the exact origins remain unclear, the existence of similar beliefs in many African countries suggests that the cult may have been brought to the south of Iran from southeast Africa through the Arab slave trade. This seldom spoken history became a starting point into an intriguing project for Hoda Afshar, who sought to document the story of these winds and the traces they have left on these islands and inhabitants.

Nine works from Hoda Afshar’s series Speak the Wind have recently been acquired by the V&A and will now be on display in the new Photography Centre, opening on 25 May 2023. The V&A has collected and exhibited photography since the founding of the museum in the 1850s. Once open, the Photography Centre will become the largest space in the UK for a permanent photography collection, and the seven galleries - four of which will be new additions - will showcase the museum’s world-leading holdings.

Beyond the physical gallery spaces, a key focus for photography at the V&A is research and the development of new sector-leading initiatives. A major strand is the Parasol Foundation Women in Photography Project, established in 2021 to support women in photography. Led by the inaugural Parasol Foundation Curator of Women in Photography, Fiona Rogers (see our Guest Room curated by Fiona Rogers), the project encompasses a curatorial post alongside acquisitions, research, education and public displays.

Click here to check out the transcript of a talk presented by the project, held between Hoda Afshar and Shoair Mavlain, director of The Photographers’ Gallery in London.