All posts filed under: Art

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 …

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 …