In the islands of the Strait of Hormuz off the southern coast of Iran, a distinctive local culture has emerged as the result of many centuries of cultural and economic exchange, the traces of which are seen not only materially but also in the customs and beliefs of the inhabitants.
Central to these is a belief in the existence of winds — generally thought of as harmful — that may possess a person, causing her to experience illness or disease, and a corresponding ritual practice involving incense, music, and movement, in which a hereditary cult leader speaks with the wind through the afflicted patient in one of many local or foreign tongues in order to negotiate its departure.
Wider beliefs about these winds permeate the culture, but are seldom openly discussed, whether because of suspicion or because of belief in the power of language to manifest the invisible.
While their exact origins are unclear, the existence of similar beliefs and practices in many African countries suggests the cult may have been brought to the south of Iran from southeast Africa through the Arab slave trade, an account that agrees with that of many local people, who hold that the winds travel from Ethiopia.
For locals and visitors alike, these beliefs resonate with the surreal landscape of the islands: strange valleys and statue-like mountains slowly carved by the wind over many millennia.
The project I began in 2015 documents the history of these winds and the visible traces they have left on these islands and their inhabitants — a visible record of the invisible seen through the eye of the imagination.
About the author
Tehran, Iran, 1983
Afshar works at the intersection of conceptual, staged and documentary image-making, exploring the representation of gender, marginality and displacement.
She began her career as a photographer in 2005 and completed her Bachelor's degree in Fine Art–Photography at Azad University of Art and Architecture, Tehran, the following year. She moved to Australia in 2007 and received a PhD in Creative Arts at Curtin University, Perth, in 2019.
Afshar’s work has been shown widely at galleries and festivals in Australia and abroad. In recent years, these have included the Aichi Trienniale in Nagoya, Japan (2022); her solo exhibition Speak the Wind, shown at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne, as part of the PHOTO 2022 International Festival of Photography; and Thinking Historically in the Present at Sharjah Biennial 15 (2023).
Prizes won by Afshar include the National Photographic Portrait Prize, awarded by the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra (2015), and Monash Gallery of Art’s Bowness Photography Prize (2018). In 2021, she won the People’s Choice Award in the Ramsay Art Prize at the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide. She was awarded a Sidney Myer Creative Fellowship the same year.
Afshar’s works are held in collections including the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; Art Gallery of South Australia; University of Auckland Art Collection, New Zealand; Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne; and Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.
Afshar’s first monograph, Speak the Wind, was published by MACK in London in 2021. She lectures in photography and fine art at the Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne.
Hoda Afshar, Speak the Wind, 2015–2020
Gera Artemova, War Diary, 2022
Ragnar Axelsson, Where the World Is Melting, 2016
Alessandro Cinque, Peru, a Toxic State, 2017
Siân Davey, The Garden, 2022
Federico Ríos Escobar, Paths of Desperate Hope, 2022
Gauri Gill, Notes from the Desert, 1999-ongoing
Michał Łuczak, Extraction, 2017
Yael Martínez , Luciérnaga (Firefly), 2021
Richard Renaldi, Disturbed Harmonies, 2023
Vanessa Winship, Sweet Nothings: Schoolgirls of Eastern Anatolia, 2007
Vasantha Yogananthan, Mystery Street, 2022