All posts tagged: Central Asia

Uyghur Urbanism in Recent Modernist Poetry

  Self-Portrait in a detail of Yarmemet Niyaz’s 2013 painting “蓝色的旅律” A good while ago the anthropologist Stevan Harrell asked me to consider the unique position of Uyghurs as heirs to an urbanism that predates the rise of Chinese cities in Central Asia. He asked me to think through the ways in which this urban tradition has affected Uyghur social organization. I’m still thinking about this. Uyghur thinkers are too. They are thinking about the way new urban forms reorient their lives. They are grappling with the way certain spaces draw them in by reflecting their pasts while other forms face them with a blankness that does not allow them a way in. One of the most remarkable paintings at the first Uyghur contemporary art exhibition in 2015 was a mixed media piece in which the artist Yarmemet Niyaz inserted a small rectangular mirror onto the side of a bright blue house next to an old coal stove (Uy: mesh) that many people use in Uyghur oasis cities. The mirror interpellates the viewer. You can …

Aspiration, Masculinity and the City

Hezriti Ali’s film short and music video “With Me” Within the marriage market of the urban Uyghur community it has become almost a cliché to discuss the moral aptitude of young men in terms of their frequency of prayer. When introducing a potential boyfriend, the line given is “he prays five times a day” (Uy: u besh namazni jayida üteydu). Although this description often overlooks other moral failures such as drinking, smoking and general carousing, the overall connotation conveyed is “this guy is a good, responsible guy.” In the short film “With Me,” Hezriti Ali, another self-made migrant actor-muscian from the Southwest edge of the Taklamakan Desert, tackles this problem in an unusually subtle and implicit way. In the ten minute narrative film which proceeds his performance of the song, Hezriti lays out the context which migrant young men face in the city. Since, as for all Chinese men, the first duty of sons (particularly, for Uyghurs, younger brothers) is to one’s parents, rather than to one’s wife and her family,  underemployed strivers in the …

Sufi Poetry and Ablajan Awut Ayup

The Uyghur-language songs of the teen heart-throb Ablajan Awut Ayup run on a loop through the heads of many Uyghur tweens and young urbanites in Northwest China. Taking cues from Justin Beiber, the ever-popular dance moves of the late-Michael Jackson, and the pretty-gangster affect of Korean pop-stars, Ablajan is a self-styled chart-climber; he is a self-made song-and-dance man. Whether  you love him or hate him, the fact remains that he has cornered the Uyghur youth music market by tying clever songwriting with catchy beats. Yet beneath this veneer of auto-tuning, dance rhythms, and theatrical spectacle are melancholic questions. His songs tackle contemporary social issues in a major-key; on the upbeat they cheerfully report the serious problems inherent in rapid urbanization, the erasure of local lifeways, and the pollution tied to unsustainable planning. Ablajan indexes Sufi imagery to the rhythms of electronica, the harmonies of Chinese children’s music and aesthetics of pretty-boy pop not in a negative process but in order to generate language, to catalyze new conventions. His cheerful performances are thus heteroglossic movements — …