Acts of whistleblowing aimed at calling attention to alleged wrongdoing or misconduct continue to make headlines around the world, but despite the introduction of policies meant to protect them, the efforts of whistle-blowers in Australia are increasingly being undermined by gag orders, policing, and other forms of control — by efforts to silence those who have spoken out, and to discourage anyone who might think of doing so. Meanwhile, the possible consequences for someone who chooses to blow the whistle remain the same: if you are not simply ignored, you face the real threat of legal proceedings and imprisonment.
Agonistes, by Hoda Afshar, is based on the experiences of several men and women —former employees in the areas of immigration, youth detention, disability care, and other Australian government agencies— who chose to speak out, and who are now living with the consequences. They describe the personal and professional ruin, the breakdown of friendships and family relationships, and the physical and mental anguish that followed their decision to call out alleged abuses, and the reasons that led them to do so, despite knowing their possible fate. They explain that if they could go back, they would do it all again.
The work is composed of photogrammetric portraits and interviews where they share their experience. While their individual stories differ, the shared struggle of these men and women exposes the same agonizing truth: how the essence of tragedy emerges from the choice between responsibility and obligation — between morality and the law.
Agonistes was commissioned by PHOTO International Festival of Photography in Melbourne in 2021.
Hoda Afshar was born in Tehran, Iran, in 1983. Currently, she lives and works in Melbourne. She is a visual artist and also lectures in photography and fine art at (VCA) Melbourne University and Photography Studies College. Hoda’s work has been widely exhibited both locally and internationally and published online and in print. Her work is also part of numerous private and public collections including the National Gallery of Victoria, UQ Art Museum, MUMA Collection, Murdoch University Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia and Monash Gallery of Art. Throughout her career, Hoda has been shortlisted for many prestigious art awards; in 2015 she won Australia’s National Photographic Portrait Prize, and in 2018 won Bowness Photography Prize. She was also selected as one of the top eight young Australian artists to exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. Hoda is a member of Eleven, a new collective of contemporary Muslim Australian artists, curators and writers. Her work is represented by Milani Gallery (Brisbane).
Promoted by the Begihandi collective, GETXOPHOTO is a festival dedicated to image that takes place in Getxo (Basque Country) during September for the last 14 years. It brings different proposals from photographers and visual storytellers from all over the world to the city, setting a contemporary conversation about the theme proposed each year.
GETXOPHOTO inhabits the public space and continues supporting the use of formats, stands and unconventional exhibition spaces to show the different images. This is a thematic festival that every three years works together with a different curator who understands the photography as a tool of knowledge, communication, and of course artistic enjoyment. Exhibitions, installations, projections, collaborations, experimental laboratories and many activities complete the program of the Festival.
Jon Uriarte is the curator of GETXOPHOTO 2021.