Desert Mazâr: Sacred Sites in Western China

Desert Mazâr in Context

Rahilä Dawut (Xinjiang University), Sanjyot Mehendale (University of California, Berkeley), and Alexandre Papas (CNRS, Paris)
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Despite its reputation as one of the most inhospitable areas in the world, the Tarim Basin has been home to thriving agricultural and mercantile communities since the early centuries of the Common Era, when oasis cities were linked in a lucrative network of Eurasian trade. Today, the Tarim is home to China’s Uyghurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim community whose ancestral ties to the region date back to at least the ninth century CE. For them, the Taklamakan is sacred land, enveloping the political and religious heroes of a storied past who are buried in countless mausoleums (in Uyghur: mazâr) that dot the desert landscape. It is the power believed to emanate from these shrines that New York–based photographer Lisa Ross has captured so vividly in her images over the course of several journeys to China’s west.