Melbourne-based photographer, Hoda Afshar, has won the $30,000 William and Winifred Bowness Photography Prize for her image, Portrait of Behrouz Boochani, Manus Island.
The judges unanimously agreed the portrait has immense visual, political and emotional presence – a clear winner from the 50 finalist images.
Hoda, an Iranian-born artist, captured the portrait of Behrouz in March while visiting Manus Island, where asylum seekers have spent years in an Australian government detention centre.
Behrouz, a Kurdish-Iranian journalist and filmmaker, fled Iran in 2013 and sought asylum in Australia.
After returning to Australia, Hoda said she shared the image with Behrouz and told him the image shows ‘your passion, your fire, and your writer’s hands. It symbolises your resistance’.
He responded, ‘you are right. But I do not see myself in this picture. I only see a refugee. Someone whose identity has been taken from him. A bare life, standing there beyond the borders of Australia, waiting and staring.’ After a silence he added, ‘this image scared me’.
Hoda’s artistic approach draws from conceptual, staged and documentary photography, and often reflects on questions of representation,displacement, gender and identity politics.
The judging panel consisted of Art Gallery NSW director, Dr Michael Brand; Melbourne‐based artist Dr David Rosetzky; and Monash Gallery of Art director, Anouska Phizacklea.
The judges were very happy to recognise this photograph as a most worthy winner of the prize,’ said Dr Michael Brand. ‘It’s a great work of art—a photograph that doesn’t just preserve the dignity of the subject, but shows the viewer what has happened to this person, how this person has gone from being a writer and filmmaker to becoming a refugee, and what that has done to him as an individual.
‘We think it’s wonderful that this one photograph could show this, and hopefully connect with a very broad audience in Australia.’
Colour Factory Honourable Mentions were awarded to three photographers – Shelley Horan, Darren Sylvester and Cyrus Tang.
An exhibition of finalists is on display at MGA until 18 November 2018.
Attendees are encouraged to vote for the $2500 People’s Choice Award.
Hoda Afshar’s 2017 Bowness Photography Prize Acceptance Speech
In March this year, I travelled to Manus Island, where today nearly 600 asylum seekers remain after having spent four gruelling years in an Australian government detention centre.
I spent a week there with some of the most gentle, and fragile men I have ever met. Men who made the decision to flee war or other circumstances in their country, to seek a better life, but instead found themselves on Manus, stripped of those rights which, more and more, we regard as the privilege of citizens, just because they were born into a world of unequal geographies.
Behrouz was one of them. But in one sense at least, he is a bit different from the rest. His training as a journalist taught him the power of communication, and his tireless efforts to get the news out has given him a kind of resolve, and purpose.
I got to know his circle of friends, too — a group of Kurdish men who share a language, and an experience of stateless-ness that binds them as a community.
They have each other, at least, and the fact that we grew up in the same country, speaking the same language, meant that we could work together more easily.
But I met other men, too. Men who lacked even those fragile bonds. And I would struggle to tell you in words just how broken they are. Each day, they retreat further and further into a darkness which they lack the will, much less the words, to communicate.
… We are not islands. We are social beings, and all of us depend for our well-being on the safety and bonds of a community. But in the last decade, we have been made to think that men and women like those on Manus and Nauru represent a threat to the sanctity of our own community.
We have been told that, in order prevent the loss of lives, it is necessary to sacrifice a few; that we should be careful not to care too much. We have watched politicians invent monsters for the sake of convincing us of the need for stronger borders.
But I was born in Iran at a time when a terrible war was being waged on the border with another nation, so I know what it feels like to live in fear because the enemy is waiting at the city gates; to be told to hide in the basement because the planes are overhead. Here in Australia, we have been made to believe that the men and women we have placed in offshore prisons represent a coming
threat like that. But they do not.
This is not just about Australia. This is about a new world that we are seeing come into being before our eyes — a world in which the defense of borders depends on the drawing of new lines between the included and the excluded. Between citizens and bare lives. But these are very dangerous times, for what is being redrawn here are the limits of our human community. And the very fragility of those shifting lines means that, one day, any one of us might find ourselves on the outside. I dedicate this prize to all the men, women and children on Manus and Nauru.