Words: Duro Jovicic
about an island
by a sea
of red and white
about a landscape
formed at once
by the wind
and by the imagination
that seems to inhabit one
as much as one inhabits it.
So begins the untitled poem, inspired by artist Hoda Afshar’s visits to the Strait of Hormuz islands in Iran. These trips to the sparse mountain-scape formed the centrepiece of Speak the Wind, curated by Pippa Milne at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne from April to June 2022. The works in the exhibition instilled a feeling of respect and connection for the island’s people and their rituals and traditions, serving as an unvarnished love letter to their way of life.
As visitors entered the space, three soaring rectangular blocks, 2.6 metres high by 2 metres long, were positioned so you could weave through them, representing the landscape of the islands. The atmosphere was heightened, as they were reproduced without colour, suggesting a timeless moon-like environment, one Afshar says the locals find challenging to get by in, yet are fiercely entrenched within.
A montage of 19 images, all touching to give the impression of one varied image, adorned a wall. A partially obscured man sat cross-legged in a leafless tree; a woman in richly textured robes was juxtaposed between the sparse land and sea; and dolphins glided through the waters. All provided an impression of serenity in the everyday.
There’s a belief, amongst the island’s locals, that the mountains have been formed by winds over a millennium. These winds can carry misfortune leading to the adherence to shamanism to exorcise the invading spirit. Interestingly, some of these winds blow in from Africa’s coastline – on the islands there live some descendants from Africa and the slave trade who, over time, have assimilated and suppressed their origins due to extreme prejudice. The winds almost act as a metaphor for the sins of history, which come to reach the islands with the fury of their spirits.
In Afshar’s video installation, held on two expansive screens positioned like an open card, she displayed a quasi-interpretation of such scenes. There are drummers, people singing ancient songs, dancing – all in the presence of the shaman. One figure is possessed, kneeling, fully enveloped in a sheet. The possessed person’s body starts moving uncontrollably once a song uncovers the associated wind spirit within them. Afshar says it’s so intense that a normal human body would not be able to do it. She witnessed firsthand a number of these possessions and says, “you just have to let go of your assumptions at some point and just observe and take it in”.
Afshar’s staged reality of this occurrence allows us to ponder how we can be influenced by visual representation and how we consume images and relate to them. In some ways, we ourselves become possessed by such imagery.
Afshar’s Speak the Wind succeeded in sucking her audience into her world – and we are better for it.
Featured image: Installation view of Hoda Afshar’s Speak the Wind, Monash Gallery of Art, 2022. Photo: Zan Wimberley. Courtesy: Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne.
This article was originally published in Art Collector issue 103, January-March 2023.