May 16, 2013

East Turkestan: Uyghur Mazar Book Launched In New York


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Accompanying a major exhibition (until July 8 2013) of her work at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York, Lisa Ross releases “Living Shrines of Uyghur China”, a book of photographs a decade in the making, whose subject is the shrines to folk saints (in Uyghur, mazar) found throughout the region.

Below is an article published by Los Angeles Review of Books:

There are mosques in towns all over China, but the most concentrated signs of Islamic belief are found in the western province of Xinjiang. The region is home to most of China’s Uyghurs, a Muslim people linguistically and culturally distinct from the Han Chinese (the ethnic majority in China). The majority of Uyghurs live in the southwest of the province, in oasis cities that skirt the edges of the Taklamakan Desert. This is the setting for Lisa Ross’s Living Shrines of Uyghur China, a book of photographs a decade in the making, whose subject is the shrines to folk saints (in Uyghur, mazar) found throughout the region. People make pilgrimages to mazars throughout the year, both at religious festivals and when they want to ask for the saint’s intercession with a personal problem (a spiritual, physical, or mental ailment) or one that affects their community like a drought. Mazars are usually surrounded by ritual offerings that range from goat horns and horsetails to metal crescents and bricks. There are also small handmade dolls made from cloth that are left by women to inform the saint of their wish to have a child.

Mazars have existed in Xinjiang for centuries; as the accompanying essays in the book make clear, they are a vital sign of Uyghurs’ connection to the land and their traditions. Though their isolation has protected them, in recent years some have been turned into tourist sites. Several of the major festivals have also been banned in reaction to the acts of protest (some of them violent) that have taken place against the Chinese government (over such issues as the resettlement of Han Chinese from inner China, the family planning laws, and religious and cultural restrictions). Given the uncertainty that surrounds so much in Xinjiang at present, where huge changes in infrastructure and urban planning have already destroyed major sites of Uyghur culture (such as most of the old city of Kashgar), Lisa Ross’s book is both a timely celebration and a vital record of mazar in Xinjiang. Its release accompanies a major exhibition (until July 8 2013) of her work at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York. […]