Hoda Afshar: A Curve is a Broken Line

“Far from being a declaration of weakness, our fragility is the motor of all forms of expression, of emotion and, often, of beauty.” Fragilité, 2007, Jean-Claude Carrière (1931-2021).

A Curve is a Broken Line is shaped by testimonials of Iranian-born artist Hoda Afshar, and installed and curated by Isobel Parker Philip at the Art Gallery of NSW. In this hybrid multifaceted exhibition, the Melbourne-based visual storyteller shares with an audience ten years of her reciprocal art projects and collaborative artistic activities. The book accompanying the exhibition places Afshar’s works in their socio-cultural contexts, and emphasises Parker Philip’s curatorial strategies. They confirm Afshar’s position as one of the most influential Australian contemporary artists.  

Spread across six galleries, A Curve is a Broken Line uses the creative collaboration between artist and curator to examine topics including misery, moral judgment, and truth. Both the artistic and curatorial devices — from spoken narrations to exhibition labels — help visitors to hear and identify “the voices of the voiceless.” Strategies are applied to frame questions — mostly for Western audiences ­— to see, hear, and experience the plight of displaced humans (of which there are so many) and in particular the dehumanisation of refugees. Visitors find themselves in a hybrid position — what Gustavo Racy described in To Make See and to Let Die, 2018 — as “between terstis and superstes; either judge or attempt to give voice to the event.”

The Iranian revolution of 1978-79, which resulted in the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the war between Iran and Iraq (1980-88), changed the lives and destinies of Iranian citizens. Afshar, who was born in Iran in 1982 during the war and grew up under the Islamic regime, is from a generation which experienced a brutal, aggressive, and unjust theocratic regime. Stories of identity, rebellion, defiance, and survival are integral to her life and consequently her artistic practice.  

In this exhibition, Afshar presents stories of injustice social marginality and forced displacement. The artist confronts harsh realities, and should be considered as a visual activist who is in search of social justice, through what is “Social Justice Art.” These works should be considered as “hybrid devices” reflecting the notion that the visual arts can express the aspirations of people in their hope for a more just and democratic society. Afshar’s photographs and media productions emphasise the power and potential of individual and collective voices, visually rendered injustice, and a new paradigm in which to move forward.

Afshar assesses the question of “truth value” associated with different ways of “witnessing,” to explore visual discourse through social justice, and to discover how to address and respond to images beyond a moral level. The visual narratives and case studies in the exhibition are based on ultimate democratic values of human rights.

In October this year, in an interview with Pedram Khosronejad, Kaveh Kazemi, one of the paramount Iranian photojournalists, said: “Afshar is a brilliant and sharp visual artist, not a simple documentary photographer. When she focuses on a topic, she will not leave it until she achieves full satisfaction.”

Through her simple aesthetic and blunt gaze, Afshar’s lens brings into view hidden people and denied topics. She understands the importance emotions seen, and how to bring them to the forefront through staged photographs and videos. She chronicles the pain of others in pictures — not just as a documentary photographer but a truly empathetic observer.

A Curve is a Broken Line is Afshar’s notable mid-career exhibition. Through this retrospective, she has established herself as the most important social-justice artist of Iran and one of Australia’s most influential artistic voices. Afshar involves the viewer in the ethics of witnessing.  

Hoda Afshar: A Curve is a Broken Line
2 September 2023 – 21 January 2024 
Art Gallery of New South Wales, NSW 

Pedram Khosronejad is an Exhibitions and Collections curator at Grafton Regional Gallery and is an Adjunct Professor at the School of Social Sciences at Western Sydney University.

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