Living Otherwise: Buddhist Photography on the New Silk Road

Living Together in the Rubble


Since the violence of 2009, the tens of thousands of Uyghur migrants who lived in the shanty towns around the city have been moved into government housing or been forced to leave the city altogether. In their new living situations many of them struggle to get by. Migrants refer to these new houses as “money houses.” Homes where home furnishings, electricity, gas and water comes at a cost. In their previous housing, people could work together to gather fuel or haul water from communal taps. They could raise sheep. This is no longer the case in the new housing.

Due to these changes in living conditions some aspects of Tian Lin’s photographic practice are no longer tenable. Now instead of going to people’s homes he meets them sorting through the rubble of their old neighborhoods which have been turned into ad-hoc recycling grounds, markets and coal storage spaces.

When Tian Lin and his colleagues take up a photography that looks honestly at those that have been left out of Chinese development they are taking up a practice of witnessing.

He is witnessing in two senses: first, he is concentrating on the life he sees around him and, second, he is reframing those lives through the process of learning from them. Tian Lin is attempting to make visible what has been excluded from normal through his practice of witnessing as a wandering Buddhist. He is attempting to pull himself into a particular Uyghur orbit and along the way document his experience and activate fellow Han artists to see their own commonalities with Uyghur migrants. He is trying to see what life is made of.

Writing about his work he says: “Now, when I see the deserted mountain slope where the Uyghur migrants used to live, it feels as if they have disappeared in a mighty torrent. For a number of years I took pictures. I saw much happiness and suffering. I also saw many endings. I saw some of the foundations of human existence. Life is made out of absurdities and bleakness, excesses and anxiety. It is incredible.”

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