Year: 2015

Xinjiang Thoughts on Carolyn Drake’s new book Wild Pigeon

Many fantastic reviews have been written about Carolyn Drake’s new book of Xinjiang photography Wild Pigeon. Ian Johnson from the New York Review of Books commented on her innovative use of participatory sketching and collage. Photobook Bristol asked Drake how her participatory approach shaped her editorial process. Sean O’Hagan at The Guardian focused on Drake’s attempts to capture a vanishing culture on film. Colin Pantallat in Photo-eye congratulated Drake on “destroying” her images and in doing so destroying the solipsism that so often accompanies a heroic photographer. Rebecca Horne’s magnificent review at Daylight engages with Drake’s struggle to understand what her images might mean to Uyghurs. And the Time Lightbox review features lengthy image captions in which Drake relates the things Uyghurs told her as they looked at the images and realigned them with pencil and scissor. Numerous photography review journals selected it as one of the best books of 2014. Harper’s Magazine featured it as a portfolio in their January 2015 issue. But how have Xinjiang photographers and critics received the book? When I viewed and talked about the book with groups of Han photographers many of …

Ali K.’s “Burial Ground” Photo Series

Last weekend I went to Gulsay Cemetery at the south end of Ürümchi, back behind the power plants right next to lowest foothill of the eastern section of Heavenly Mountains. Many Uyghur, Kazakh and Hui heroes are buried in this cemetery; people often just refer to it as “the Muslim cemetery.” Looking at the markings around you, it feels as though you are in a completely Muslim world. In the Uyghur section of the cemetery all of the signs are in the Arabic script of modern Uyghur. There is little sign in this community of the dead that this cemetery is in the largest Chinese city in Central Asia. But if you look a few hundred meters away you immediately recognize that the city is now even here: the last stop on 308 bus line. Giant earth moving machines prowl the nearby city landfill; sunlight reflects off of the CITIC tower at Little West Gate. But even though the city has come to the cemetery the people here still seem at rest in the earth. …

Beige Wind in Chinese Translation!

I am thrilled to announce that Wang Tonghe, senior translator for The New York Times (Chinese), will be translating and posting selected essays from The Art of Life in Chinese Central Asia on his fantastic Chinese language blog “Humar.” The first piece is a translation of a November 2014 essay called “The Migrant Food Network.” Here is an excerpt from the translation: 离妈妈一千公里远,怎样才能吃上家乡的味道? 王童鹤 · 16 小时前 年轻人来到乌鲁木齐工作或学习时,经常会得到同乡关系网的支持帮助。他们依赖亲戚和朋友帮助他们找工作,帮助他们站稳脚跟。不过,有一些东西,城市里的接应者却无法提供:他们没办法向客居乌鲁木齐的年轻人,提供来自家乡的食物。或许正是因为这个原因,年轻的维吾尔人建立了一套食物配送体系,把家乡的味道带到城市里。 这些食物用纸箱盛放,堆在长途客车的货舱里,从新疆南部运来。这最初只是乌鲁木齐南郊客运站附近,一家名叫 Lukman 的商店经营的副业,之后却发展成了一套完整的运送网络,涵盖南疆的各片绿洲。母亲在沙漠的另一端牵挂着自己的儿女,她们会把干果、葡萄干、石榴、做熟的肉、专门烤制的馕寄给孩子。Lukman 打理着成千上万箱这些的食物。 (等待领取的货物。图:雷风 [Beige Wind]) 纸箱上写着收件人的名字、电话号码,还有住在哪个城市。箱子运到时,店家就会打电话通知收件人,母亲寄来的食物已经到了。收件人来到 Lukman 的集散中心,给店员亮一下身份证,再交 5 到 10 元的运费,接下来的一整个月,就能靠着父母的关爱生活了。 几乎每一个来到乌鲁木齐的移民,都能讲出自己刚来这座城市时,到 Lukman 领箱子的小故事。比如: “当然啦,在乌鲁木齐的巴扎里也能买到葡萄干和馕,可是收到自己的妈妈托人捎来的东西,毕竟不是一回事嘛。这是父母表达关爱的一种方式。对于我们许多人来说,父母想的事情都很简单:儿女过得健康、存些钱过节的时候花。收到这些箱子,真是太好了。虽然我在城里住了这么久,我妈妈还是会经常问我,需不需要喀什那边,我老家村里的东西。” 尽管许多移民在过节时,会回到 24 小时车程(1400 多公里)之遥的家乡喀什、和田,但对于那些在城里吃不起餐馆的最最穷苦的学生和工人来说,正是这些包裹里的干果和馕,让他们挨过中间数月的日子。一位已经定居乌鲁木齐的农村背景的大学生对我说道,就是靠妈妈寄来的一箱箱食物,“我才能在上大学的头几年里,每个月花不到 250 块(当时约合 30 美元)就活下来。不是开玩笑,我早饭和晚饭就只吃馕和水果。有时候我也会自己带馕,再在学校食堂打一份 1 块 5 的素菜。就这么过。” 对于许多学生和卖水果的小贩来说,早饭和晚饭吃馕泡茶是很常见的做法;许多人来到城里之后都会掉体重。 一位长期在此的移民对我说:“我父母还给我捎过做熟的羊肉。妈妈把羊肉弄熟,然后晾凉让它凝固在自己的脂肪里。冬天,这样的肉能搁好几个星期,很奇怪我从来没吃坏过肚子。吃饭的时候,拿一些肉泡在热水里,就有了一碗很棒的肉汤,然后我再就着汤吃馕。” Continue reading…

On the First Uyghur Contemporary Art Show

The first Uyghur contemporary art exhibition opened at the Xinjiang Contemporary Art Museum on May 16. The opening was attended by several hundred people from across the province, including most of the represented artists. Since the majority of the painters were teachers or professors, many leading administrators from local universities were also present. Aside from them and a few Han painters from local art schools that the museum’s leading curator, Zeng Chunkai, had invited for the opening, nearly everyone was Uyghur. Even a famous Uyghur public intellectual, Yalkun Rozi, came and praised the artists – although he clearly didn’t understand contemporary art. Everyone I spoke with was thrilled by the opening. Several viewers were amazed to see Uyghurs given voice in a professional contemporary art space. Just seeing their work on the wall was a major thing. The artists I spoke with felt as though the exhibition — which will last until June 16 — was a turning point in the Uyghur contemporary art scene. To them it presaged greater recognition and further development outside of Xinjiang and into the world. Actually the exhibition …