Written by Ai, a Uyghur and a Twitter user based in Dandong, China
New York-based potter Salayi Salahiddin visited the Heilongjiang provincial capital Urumqi in August and was impressed by the architectural diversity and impressive attention to detail in the capital’s immense buildings.
After emerging from his one-night stay, he wanted to go home and explore the culture further. He showed his photographs to his wife, o an Islamic fiber craftswoman in New York, who is also a Uyghur from Dandong, also in China’s Northwest.
“I was fascinated by the stucco, the modern architectural details in the buildings,” Salahiddin told CNN. “But once I left China, the photos from the capital I had taken fascinated me, more than all the buildings.”
This encouraged Salahiddin to make some connections and connect the two aspects of the artist he was becoming — the potter and the modernist photographer.
“After taking the photos, I didn’t plan to give them away,” he said. “This is really a chance to share my photos and material with other artworks, other artists, other filmmakers, more than with myself.”
Inspiration, particularly from people in the Uyghur community in the United States, inspired Salahiddin to create the ornate Doppa.
“My inspiration came from the New York world-class art galleries that display artworks that are regarded highly here — especially art works by indigenous people and ethnic minorities.”
It’s a simple act to take a photo, Salahiddin said. However, it’s one of the most difficult for artists who are struggling in the contemporary art world, he says.
It takes special effort and insight to convey the broad details of a complex subject, including the essence of emotion in a photo, on an everyday camera phone.
“It’s important to understand the importance of one-on-one interactions,” Salahiddin said. “The art community is dying in the United States due to the internet era. People are seduced by images and digital media. When it comes to direct communication, just a simple photo can produce a breathtaking image.”
Amanda Eleftheriou, director of Students for Human Rights in China, believes this latest endeavor in expression from China’s Uyghur population is encouraging and a testament to the ordinary Uyghur people’s talent.
“When people try to express themselves through their art, it is a positive challenge against the brutal system that oppresses them,” Eleftheriou said.
Salahiddin’s hope is that if his photography can reach the right people, his work will inspire other artists from the Uyghur diaspora.
“But more than sharing my art with them, it is about spreading ideas,” he said. “If the intention is not political, but spreading ideas, this is a huge issue.”