All posts filed under: Art

Imagining Re-Engineered Muslims in Northwest China

While perusing the news from Northwest China in mid-April 2017, I came across a story about a Uyghur official who refused to smoke cigarettes in front of other devout Uyghurs. The Communist Party leader was publicly shamed and demoted for his failure to remain resolute in his “commitment to secularization.” Smoking, the state declared, was a personal choice that must be protected.By this logic, an individual’s right to smoke is thus a fundamental form of freedom: freedom to consume the secular. Smoking, like secularism, is a manifestation of the norms of Chinese citizenship. Any attempt at limiting it, in favor of respecting religious practices, is symptomatic of a social malady. The story, published by the Associated Press on April 11, 2017, reminded me of my own experiences of smoking with Uyghur friends. It made me think of a time when I was smoking cigarettes with a Uyghur friend as we wandered the back streets of Kashgar. We were on the prowl for late-night bowls of hand-pulled noodles or laghman. As we walked down an alleyway …

Terrifying Uyghurs

In a recent article James Leibold, a scholar at La Trobe University, in Australia, discussed the way ethnic minority struggles against police and structural violence have often been officially misrecognized as “terrorism.” At the same time, in China, as in the United States, violent acts carried out by non-Muslims are read as acts of the deranged and mentally ill, but not as “terrorism.” In China, as in the United States, the lives of Muslims which are lost as a result of “terrorist” or “counter-terrorism” efforts are often unnoticed and unmourned. All losses of life leave gaping holes in our human social fabric, but why are some more grievable than others? What happens when a population is “terrified” by the discourse of “terrorism”? As in many other parts of the world, the concept of “terrorism” in China was strongly influenced by Bush Era American political rhetoric. Prior to 9/11, Uyghur violence was almost exclusively regarded as “splitism.” Since 9/11, as Gardner Bovingdon has shown, according to official state reports Han settlers in Xinjiang have become victims of “terrorism” on a …

New Uyghur Interior Design and the Art of Dilmurat Abdukadir

On the top floor of the Aq Saray or the White Palace hotel in Ürümchi is a massive reproduction of Napoleon Crossing the Alps by Jacques-Louis David. He is flanked on his left by a reproduction of Ivan Kramskoi’s Portrait of an Unknown Woman (which everyone associates with Anna Karenina). Across the expansive red room, otherwise decorated in the style of a Russian tea room, gigantic reproductions of Venetian canals and cityscapes fill out the walls. Overhead murals of clouds, star constellations, and pheasants in flight glow against the ornate heavy white archways that surround them. The paintings are the works of Dilmurat Abdukadir– who was hired by the owner of the restaurant to produce life-sized images of paintings the owner had found on the Internet. The space is fascinating. Not only does it unapologetically embrace an amalgam of European aesthetics, but it is symptomatic of larger trends in Uyghur restaurant politics and aesthetics. Somewhere around 2008, scholars began to notice that Turkish imports were on the rise in Xinjiang. Suddenly chocolates from the massive …

On Qurbanjan Semet’s Photobook “I am from Xinjiang on the Silk Road”

Initially many Uyghurs were excited about the Uyghur photographer Qurbanjan Semet’s book-length photo essay I am from Xinjiang on the Silk Road. At first they were thrilled to see Qurbanjan’s national primetime interview on CCTV News. They were astonished to see it be translated into English (by Wang Chiying) and sold alongside Xi Jinping’s boilerplate biography at Book Expo America. They wanted to know why people as famous and distant as the movie star Jackie Chan and novelist-turned-harmony-spokesperson Wang Meng were singing its praises. But when they actually had a chance to look at it they were often disappointed. The book (which was produced largely for Chinese and English-reading audiences) is presented as the portraits and stories of human life in and from Xinjiang. Yet, although the majority of the over 100 people portrayed in the book are Uyghur, only a small handful of them are uneducated people from the countryside. So while many Uyghurs agree that the message the book carries – that Uyghurs in general are not “Separatists, Extremists, and Terrorists” – is …