Your web browser is out of date. Update your browser for more security, speed and the best experience on this site.
Find out more
The Westoxicated #3

Hoda Afshar’s photography challenges western stereotypes

The Iran-born artist who is part of the exhibition IN PROGRESS at RPS Gallery explains what inspired her series Under Western Eyes

All images from the series Under Western Eyes by Hoda Afshar


Hoda Afshar has been opening hearts and minds since she began her visual career as a documentary photographer for a Tehran newspaper in Iran.

Moving to Australia in 2007, she widened her practice to explore fine art and began toying with ideas, challenging assumptions, and embracing the moving image. Her plan was, she says, to “disrupt traditional image-making practices, play with the presentation of imagery, or merge aspects of conceptual, staged and documentary photography”.

She is one of five leading artists challenging assumptions and tackling contemporary issues head on in a group exhibition at RPS Gallery, Bristol. IN PROGRESS: Laia Abril – Hoda Afshar – Widline Cadet – Adama Jalloh – Alba Zari is part of Bristol Photo Festival. Curated by Aaron Schuman, it showcases new work by image-makers determined to question mainstream culture. 

Here, Afshar explains what inspired one of her best-known series, Under Western Eyes, which uses a Pop Art style to play with the dominant representations of Islamic women seen in western galleries.

CREDIT: Hoda Afshar

“I would never have thought or had a reason to make a work like Under Western Eyes prior to leaving Iran, and it was indeed inspired by my experience of migration in several different ways. My ‘Iranian-ness’ was not something I considered much until I discovered that, in the mind of the new society, there existed an image of me that seemed to overshadow my entire personal history and being. I had to confront all those stereotypes that so many migrants from Islamic countries routinely experience.

Under Western Eyes is a response to how these stereotypes operate within the contemporary art market. When I looked at the sort of artworks produced by Iranian or Middle Eastern artists that typically gained visibility here, and in the West generally, I noticed here too that often they reflected the same stereotypes I mentioned above. So often in these works the theme is basically identical – to do with the struggle of Iranian women being caught between the forces of tradition and modernity, their sexual lives, and identity. And in each case, this ‘identical struggle’ is so often communicated using a single trope: the veil.

“Realising this led me to engage in a deeper reflection on the intersections between postmodern exoticism and the commodification of culturally different artworks and artists. Under Western Eyes was born out of these reflections, and this explains the Warhol-esque aesthetic. But there is a more serious side to this work too. This concerns the way in which the constant production of images of the female Islamic subject – as at once suppressed and secretly fashion-loving or sexually free: an object of fear and fascination – is bound up with a cleverly disguised form of cultural imperialism.”

The Westoxicated #7 Copy
CREDIT: Hoda Afshar

IN PROGRESS is at RPS Gallery, Bristol, until 24 October.

The RPS Journal is available exclusively to members. Join us to receive our award-winning magazine and read more inspiring features. Explore full member benefits here