In her series ‘In the Exodus, I love you more’, Hoda Afshar explores her changing relationship to her homeland, Iran. Traversing the boundaries of culture and identity, her photographs respond to the experiences of her personal journey and the stories she shares with her country of birth.
Text by Marina Trancoso
Migration, Exile, Exodus. It all comes down to one major dilemma: the pleasures of freedom versus the pleasures of belonging. And the pains that go with them. Hoda Afshar’s series ‘In the Exodus, I love you more’ is a documentation of the migratory life she has been living, and a survey on the intricate subjects of foreignness and identity. Hoda is originally from Iran, a country that, in her own words, “is often either misrepresented or simply misunderstood, whether because of ignorance or because of the difficulty in navigating the surface in a place where the surface and depth often exchange looks.”
Australia was her destination after leaving her motherland nearly a decade ago. And like all migrants, she misses the things she left behind. “The taste of the air; the trees’ sweet smell; the song of the streets and of the crows at sunset […]. My memory clings to these things, and somehow, my distance increases their nearness to me—these things that are always for me both there and not.” Facing the challenges of being a long-term foreigner, her photographs are an expression of the internal negotiations triggered by the act of returning “home” and realizing how much things have changed.
In 2014, she decided to record her evolving vision of Iran, “an insider vision that’s been shaped by the feeling of distance that accompanies migration”, she explains. After all, it was there where her passion for photography and storytelling had begun. At first, she took pictures without a clear concept. She was waiting for an idea to appear, for a sign to show in which direction to move forward. But somehow this absence became a way of being fully present and evolved into a method of work. “My approach in making this series, then, has been to invert these feelings of expectation—not to expect but to let the surface speak; to embrace suspense and distance and turn them into a kind of seeing; to let what is both there and not there shine through the surface; to see reality as suspended.”
A soft, nostalgic aesthetic is the most distinctive characteristic of Hoda’s work. When seen as a group, her photographs appear as a collection of reminiscences, as a glimpse into her subconscious. Showing a readiness to accept life’s duality, Hoda deliberately plays with the ideas of familiarity and strangeness to introduce us to–her own version of–modern Iran. Needless to say, the topic here is not the exotic Orient and all the clichés associated with it. Ultimately, this series is about the formidable task of redefining “home” once it has become an intangible feeling. And these pictures tell us that, after taking off for distant hemispheres, Hoda has now discovered how to see what she has already seen.
“In the Exodus, I love you more is an ongoing photographic series that I began in 2014. It is a record of my changing vision of, and relationship to, my homeland, Iran: a relationship that has been shaped by my having been away, by that distance that increases the nearness of all the things to which memory clings, and which renders the familiar… strange, and veiled. It is an attempt to embrace that distance and to turn it into a way of seeing; to let what is both there and not there shine through the surface; to explore the interplay of presence and absence in a place where the surface and depth often exchange looks, and to discover the truth that lies there, in-between.” – Hoda Afshar
Hoda Afshar was born in Tehran, Iran. Completing a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Art (Photography) in Tehran, she began her career as a documentary photographer in 2005. Now based in Melbourne, Hoda is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Art at Curtin University, as well as a lecturer at Photography Studies College in Melbourne. In 2006, she was selected by World Press Photo as one of the top ten young documentary photographers in Iran to attend their Educational Training Program, and in 2015, she was selected as the winner of National Photographic Portrait Prize. Hoda has been exhibiting since 2007 in major photography festivals and art institutions both in Australia and abroad. Find out more about her work here.
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