All posts tagged: Urumchi

A Police State Going into Hiding

Uyghur music played in the center of the Grand Bazaar in 2019 Over the past two years, multiple news reports, academic research, and eyewitness accounts have pieced together a picture of the tight surveillance in the police state the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has become. I experienced some of this surveillance myself during a trip to Urumqi and Xinjiang’s south in the spring of 2018. One year later, in 2019, I was prepared to encounter even more restrictions during a second trip to Ürümchi and two southern cities, where surveillance has been reported to be most severe. To my surprise, I noticed soon after my arrival that much of the visible surveillance measures had been reduced noticeably compared to 2018. This created an illusion of a more relaxed atmosphere, at least on the surface. However, as I was to discover during my travel, surveillance had not decreased but emerged in more discrete ways. Despite still being many, the overall number of surveillance cameras seemed to have declined, at least it didn’t look like that there …

Salvage Freedom

It is hard to know what to start thinking with in a book as rich with ideas as Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World. What struck me the most though, was a middle section on “Freedom . . .” Here and in the pages that surround it, Tsing writes that the way Southeast Asian refugee immigrants and white Vietnam War vets pick mushrooms in Oregon might be conceptualized as a practice of salvage accumulation. Tsing argues that such a practice produces sites of life that are “simultaneously inside and outside of capitalism” (Tsing 2015, 63). In these pericapitalist worlds, people produce irregular forms of freedom. Importantly, she notes, this is not the liberal freedom of rational individual choice; rather, it is a form of freedom haunted by forms of power “held in abeyance” (Tsing 2015, 76). When mushroom pickers in Oregon speak of freedom, they are speaking of freedom from the drudgery of wage labor, apartment life, property restrictions, and the violence of urban policing. The freedom of salvage accumulation …

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Introducing Living Otherwise

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. …

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 …