Changes are in store for the Art of Life in Chinese Central Asia thanks to a generous fellowship from the Simpson Center for the Humanities at the University of Washington. Not only have we moved from Beige Wind to a new site called Living Otherwise and transformed it into magazine-style repository, but we are also developing some new exciting larger-scale projects that highlight the arts and changing cultural systems of the city of Ürümchi and Northwest China more broadly. Over the next year we will be bringing you more long-form essays, such as the recently published piece “Ms. Munirä’s Wedding Gifts,” as well as interactive mapping projects and virtual exhibitions of Xinjiang arts and politics.
The first of these larger scale projects is a multilinear photo essay titled “Living Otherwise: Buddhist Photography on the New Silk Road.” The project tells the story of Tian Lin, a Han settler and former monk, who has developed a meditative photo practice among Uyghur squatters in the city of Ürümchi and through this become a major figure in Xinjiang arts scene.
The essay argues that Tian Lin’s Buddhist photography produces a politics of living otherwise. Tian Lin calls viewers and participants in his projects to live with conscious awareness of radical ethnic differences and, in doing so, actively attempt to transform how people live together. By reframing migrant life in the city in imagery Tian Lin is demonstrating what a practice of living-with others looks like.
In the six sections of the project I discuss how Tian Lin finds himself in the middle of three interrelated social transformations: the unfolding history and geography of ethnic politics between Uyghurs and Han, the resurgence of religious faith across China, and the emergence of documentary photography in contemporary Chinese arts. I then turn to Tian Lin’s images and the politics they signify. Finally I conclude the essay by summarizing Tian Lin’s photo project and what makes it significant in the art and politics of Chinese Central Asia.
Thanks as always for reading the Art of Life in Chinese Central Asia. Please enjoy “Living Otherwise”!