All posts filed under: Art

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 …

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 …

The Blind Voice of the New Silk Road

Perhatjan performing in the second segment of the Voice of the Silk Road  This week was the screening of the seventh segment of the first round of The Voice of the Silk Road – a show that hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs watch every Friday night at 8 pm local time on Xinjiang TV Channel 9. People like the contest because they can watch their favorite performers joke around with each other; they can see people they know perform or imagine themselves performing in their place. Uyghurs see themselves trying on a performance mode popularized by mainstream English and Chinese-language versions of the show, but instead of English or Chinese pop ballads and American and (largely) Han stories of unrecognized talent, on this show they see the reverse. They largely see Uyghur folk songs, classical muqam and pop music; and they mostly hear Uyghur stories of personal triumph. The Voice of the Silk Road is a celebration of an amateur love for Uyghur music. The contestants sing because they love to sing; they sing because they …