The Brunei Gallery has delved deep into the desert paths of Xinjiang thanks to a photographic exhibition, which began a couple of days ago and which reflects the religious culture and rituals of a minority society in China.
The exhibition is the result of a journey that brought North American photographer Lisa Ross to the Chinese desert of Taklamakan. A ten years adventure, which is now captured in “Living Shrines”.
The public will encounter snapshots of the Uygurs, inhabitants of the autonomous region of Xinjiang. In one of the areas that rejects the central authority of Beijing, the artist reveals its people’s own culture and identity, as they defend Islam, a minority religion in the oriental state.
Lisa Ross immersed herself in the Uygurs faith, accompanying them on a pilgrimage to desert shrines and other sacred Islamic places, known as “mazârs”, with the aim of honouring saints who date back to the 10th Century. Some of the rituals documented in the exhibition are personal prayers, animal sacrifices, or the offering of dolls from women who pray for their sons.
The emotion that the artist intends to portray through her work is the majesty of the Uygurs’ landscape, which is also a revered place of faith. “Living Shrines” is a work marked by spirituality. The images use light and religious monuments as their protagonists.
However, far from being places stuck in the past, the photography also shows the transformations that the mazârs have been subjected to, which is more a reflection on the changes that this culture has had to face.
Ross has been a ringside witness to the metamorphosis of the religious outlook, thanks to the journeys that she undertook, accompanied by folklore expert Rahile Dawurt and historian Alexandre Papas, the most recent visit being in 2011.
At the exhibition, the public will be able to purchase a book with photographs from the show, along with essays from Beth Citron, Rahila Dawut and Alexandre Papas.
Date: Open until 21 June.
Hours: 10.30am – 5pm
Place: Brunei Gallery, SOAS, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London, WC1H 0XG
(Translated by Oliver Phelan)