Mahshad Afshar (b. Isfahan, Iran) is a filmmaker, visual artist, and researcher living and working in London. Her work mostly draws on the aesthetic of painful otherness, body, memory and politicised identity.
Her first degree was in Computer Software Engineering. Afshar then travelled to Germany in 2004 to continue her studies and there she participated in the Miss Iran contest and was nominated for the final competition in Dubai. On her way to Dubai, she stopped to visit her parents in Iran and was arrested and interrogated for many days on baseless accusations of being a spy, collaborating with opposition Media and breaching Islamic Sharia law by removing her hijab. Finally, she was placed under house arrest for six months. In 2006, she decided to leave Iran and live in exile and has been working and living in London ever since.
After completing her Master's degree in Arts and Heritage Management, Afshar worked at a London based Iranian Television station. There she met Kina Firouz, an Iranian Lesbian film student whose asylum case was rejected by the UK Home office after she had been forced to flee Iran. Her story inspired Afshar to co-direct her debut feature docudrama Cul-de-sac (2010). The film portrays the challenges of an Iranian homosexual woman in exile. With a broad reception by the International press and media it was screened at twenty-three international film festivals, as well as at Amnesty International and many other human rights and women's rights organisations. Afshar collaborates widely with renowned International human rights organisations and especially with campaigns supporting refugees and migrants.
Afshar graduated from the London Film School in Filmmaking/Directing with an MA in 2014, and continued her research interests with an MPhil in Film and Television Studies at Brunel University London, and a Ph.D. in Film Studies at Kingston University, London. She has received numerous scholarship and studentships including the prestigious Creative Skillset Film bursary (2011), London Metropolitan Bursary (2009) and KSA Studentship (2017).
The experience of her arrest in Iran and then her life in exile has remained with Afshar for a long time and became the source of inspiration for some of her later films. She produced a short film “Angelus Novus” directed by Aboozar Amini about the life of Afghan refugee children in Turkey and their struggle for survival. It was officially selected and screened at many International Film Festivals including Rotterdam, Nederland film festival, and won the title of the Best Short Film at FILM Middle East NOW in Florence, and best short film at Tehran International Short Film Festival. In her narrative short film Five (2017), Afshar focuses on the post-traumatic experience of an Iranian ex-political prisoner who is trying to cope with life in exile. The film is currently circulating at international film festivals and has already received nominations at three festivals.
In her most recent documentary and film essay project, Women on Both Sides of the Camera (2018), Afshar questions the idea of female gaze by addressing how Iranian female filmmakers represent female identity on the screen.
Afshar is a cultural and political activist with research interests in the areas of Feminist Film Theory, Gaze and Screen Representations of Gender & Sexuality. She is currently collaborating with organisations that use the arts as a means to build solidarity, dialog and spread peace across cultures.