Photographs Give a Rare Look at the Desert Shrines of Uyghur China - Atlas Obscura
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Photographs Give a Rare Look at the Desert Shrines of Uyghur China

article-imageLisa Ross, “Black Garden (An Offering)” (2009), archival print on cotton paper (all images courtesy the Rubin Museum of Art)

Bundled twigs swathed with scraps of fabric wave on the desert winds in the Xinjiang region of China. These shrines have been maintained by the Uyghur Muslisms for centuries as tributes to Sufi saints. While rarely seen by outsiders, photographer Lisa Ross has spent the past decade documenting these beautiful sites, and her work is currently on view in Living Shrines of Uyghur China at the Rubin Museum in New York.

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Lisa Ross, “Unrevealed, Site 20 (Sunray on Tomb)” (2009), archival print on cotton paper

The free exhibition has 23 images of these mazars — the name for the shrine — as well as two videos that show the tranquility of the sites to give an impression of what pilgrims experience when visiting. Those pilgrims have left behind offerings like dolls and animal horns that mingle with the striking layers of silk layed over or wound through the shrines. 

article-imageLisa Ross, “Unrevealed, Site 4 (Colored ‘Cribs’)” (2009), archival print on cotton paper

article-imageLisa Ross, “Unrevealed, Site 3 (Ladder)” (2009), archival print on cotton paper

Ross’ project is also aimed at documenting the shrines before they vanish, as with the Chinese government having recently given them a “cultural property” designation, their religious status has been underplayed and their future is potentially limited, according to the New York Times. The photographs have also been collected into a book published by Monacelli Press. Through all the photographs is a reflection of how these shrines in the Himalayas reflect the merging traditions of the area, from the colors of the prayer flags of Tibet to the Mongolia wishing trees, all influenced by the increasing modernization of China. 

article-imageLisa Ross, “Healing Tree” (2009), archival print on cotton paper

Living Shrines of Uyghur China: Photography by Lisa Ross is at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York through July 8.