In 2002, artist Lisa Ross found herself in China. She decided to venture to the far western regions of the country, which she heard were home to a predominantly Uyghur population. She would return numerous times after that to document many aspect of a community that was about to change forever.
Her photos are haunting, since they represent a world that is no longer there, as the Chinese authorities are imposing strict assimilationist policies on the local populations. It is believed that over a million Uyghurs and other Muslim populations have been forced into “re-education camps” that have been built in the last few years. A number of Ross’s contacts in the region have been disappeared and detained in such camps.
I invited Ross, and her collaborator Anthony Varalli, to our studio to tell us about her experience in this land that sees few foreigners and where international reporters rarely ever visit.
Some of Ross’s work in the Uyghur homeland is currently on view in New York’s Miyako Yoshinaga gallery. Titled I Can’t Sleep: Homage to a Uyghur Homeland, the exhibition continues until March 16.
The music for this episode is “People are Glorious” by renowned musician Sanubar Tursun, who worked with Lisa Ross. Tursun was arrested by the Chinese authorities in December of last year. Her album, Arzu (Songs of the Uyghurs), is available on iTunes, and her music is also part of the album Music of Central Asia, Vol. 10: Borderlands, which you can find on iTunes and other music portholes.