The Carnival is a series of photographs, documenting the Islamic ceremony of Ashura & Tasua during the months of Muharram & Saffar in Iran. This ceremony is held every year across the country for forty days, when people mourn for the martyrdom of Hussein bin Ali, the grandson of Muhammad the third Shiite Imam, along with members of his family and close friends at the Battle of Karbala in the year 61 AH (680 AD). He remains the most popular Shiite leader due to his virtuousness and the tragic story of his martyrdom. It is believed that on his way to Kufa, Hussein encountered the army of Yazid who was in power at that time and was openly against the teaching of Islam in public. Hussein and his small group of 72 followers and family members, fought with bare hands against a large army of enemies. Yazid’s army blocked their way to the river and surrounded them for ten days without food and water in the middle of a desert and finally killed them all; cutting their heads off and tearing their bodies to pieces.

This story has left a strong impact on Islamic cultures and is also considered to be the root of martyrdom in Shiite tradition, which people consider to be a bridge to salvation. It is also believed that the Battle of Karbala was a battle between the forces of good and evil. Hussein is thus represented as the symbol of good with the color green, while Yazid is represented as evil with the colour red.

The commemoration of Hussein is a national public holiday in Iran and during this time people commit themselves completely to the mourning of Hussein by sacrificing animals, crying and listening to poems about the tragic story of how he was martyred. This is intended to connect them with Hussein’s suffering and the sacrifices he made to keep Islam alive. People also trust in Hussein as a sinless and pure being; one who can intercede with God to mediate on their behalf. By mourning for Hussein, they are in fact pleading for forgiveness and redemption.


Hoda Afshar was born in Tehran in 1983 and currently lives and works in Melbourne. She is a PhD candidate in the Department of Art at Curtin University in Western Australia. Her photographic practice is diverse, working across various fields from documentary and photojournalism through to art photography. Hoda won the Golestan Documentary Award in Iran in 2006 and the World Press Photo Educational Training Program Contest in 2007. Hoda’s exhibition history has been somewhat limited in Iran as her practice has always been in contrast with the Islamic regulations. Since being in Australia her work has been exhibited various times at Mori Gallery in Sydney, the Moores Building in Fremantle and recently in a solo exhibition at the Pingyao Photographic Festival in China.

More of Hoda’s work can be seen at her website.