The beautiful portrait of Hoda Afshar from the islands of the Persian Gulf

In her book Speak the Wind published by MACK, the Melbourne-based, Iranian-born photographer captures the landscapes, people and rituals of the Strait Islands. of Hormuz

There is a belief in the islands of the Strait of Hormuz, in the Persian Gulf, that the wind is able to possess people, making them sick. To cure this disease, the inhabitants of these islands perform rituals with drum music and poetry recitals in Arabic, Farsi or Swahili, depending on where the wind blows. When Hoda Afshar visited these islands for the first time in 2015, she wanted to document these rituals. But the Melbourne-based, Iranian-born photographer quickly became fascinated by the beliefs behind them and their connection to the Arab slave trade. Her project turned into an attempt to photograph and make visible invisible things, such as belief and history. The result – a book called Speak the wind, published by MACK – is a subtle, layered and emphatic portrait of the landscapes, people and rituals of these extraordinary islands.

Given its theme, the book is strangely still. It reveals the dry and arid landscape of the islands, mostly sandy in color, with surreal touches of volcanic mineral ocher, whose reddish hues range from brick red to sumac burgundy. A single image shows a palm tree swaying in the wind; another shows a piece of cloth blown away by the wind. Rather, the wind is suggested by its influence on the landscape of the Hormuz Islands and their inhabitants.

Three sections of the book are printed in black and white; these are dedicated to the unusual rock formations found on the islands, which are smooth in places and jagged in others. Some of these black and white pages are not cut off at the top, leaving them attached to the next page, creating a pocket between them. These intermediate pages are not printed with photographs, but with drawings and quotes from people describing their experience of wind possession. The quotes are printed on several pages, as if they had been scanned: “One night, while I was sleeping, it entered my body. I felt it… I could feel it swirling in my head… they will haunt you in your dreams if you don’t give them what they ask for ”. Drawings of monstrous beings appear through the photographs of the landscape. It is an unusual and ingenious design, which successfully suggests that the inhabitants of the Hormuz Islands are as shaped by the wind as the rock formations found there.

At the start of medieval times, slaves from what is now Somalia and Zanzibar were brought to the Persian Gulf by Arab slave traders to be sold across the Arabian Peninsula. These Africans later became sailors and pearl divers, participating in the maritime life of the region. They integrated into the communities there, although their descendants face discrimination to this day. Perhaps, as anthropologist Michael Taussig suggests in his text for the book, it is not surprising that these descendants believe their ailments are caused by the possession of the winds that blow from where they were plucked. . In one video after her victory at the National Portrait Prize, Afshar explained that, for her, “half of the impact of the image comes from the story behind it”.

Speak the wind by Hoda Afshar is published by MACK, and is available now.

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