Living Shrines of Uyghur China

Photo: Lisa Ross, 2007
Photo: Lisa Ross, 2007

Created over a series of journeys to China’s Xinjiang region, photographer Lisa Ross captures a kaleidoscope of spiritual energy in her exhibit ‘Living Shrines of Uyghur China,’ which shows through July 8 at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City. Ross’s series of vibrant images juxtaposes airy Islamic holy sites, called mazars, against Xinjiang’s stark desert landscape. A number of the mazars, which honor the lives of Muslim saints, have been maintained for hundreds of years. With some shrines almost psychedelic in appearance, Ross adeptly channels the vivacity of Uyghur culture without featuring a single human being in her photographs. Her serene portraits illustrate the harmonious intersection of religion, nature and this graceful and austere form of architecture.

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Trespassing Modernities – Post-Stalinist Soviet Architecture

Lenin Palace, 1970, Almaty, Kazakhstan © Simona Rota
Lenin Palace, 1970, Almaty, Kazakhstan © Simona Rota

Here at Steppe we have a great passion for the Soviet architecture of the Central Asian states. As an expression of the progress of thought, whether state or personal, this architecture is a real eye opener, and is rightly, finally, finding its place in helping to define and deconstruct a very complex time. Frederic Chaubin’s book CCCP: Cosmic Communist Constructions Photographed (reviewed in Steppe 9) brought us wonderful photos of some of the most exotic examples of post-war Soviet architecture across the former republics of the USSR, but in the exhibition ‘Trespassing Modernities’ at Salt Galata in Istanbul,  Georg Schöllhammer delves deeper into the evolution of post-Stalinist Soviet architecture.

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Made in Kazakhstan

I’ve got my two adorable children to thank for entering a children’s store in Almaty and  discovering these covetable rolling animals from Vishnyovii Papa (‘Cherry Papa’) designs, made by local designer Chingiz Shakurov. I am so thrilled to find something so attractive, well-designed, and fun which has been made in Kazakhstan. Such a treat after the endless shipping containers of Chinese plastic in the bazaar.

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Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire

Instructional poem for pigeon-fanciers by Valih Musavi (1788) (c) British Library Board
Instructional poem for pigeon-fanciers by Valih Musavi (1788) (c) British Library Board

There is still time to rush out and see the British Library’s latest Exhibition “Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire”, which closes on April 2nd. It might not, at first sight, appear to be a natural stamping ground for Steppe readers, more interested in the lands further north. However, it goes without saying that the clue is in the name. The Mughal Empire was ultimately sprung from the Mongol and Turkic dynasties of Central Asia, descended from Genghis Khan and Tamerlane. Its founder, Babur (1483-1530) was born in Ferghana and briefly ruled in Samarkand, but was forced from his homeland by Uzbek invaders, and ultimately moved his power base to Kabul and then India. Continue reading Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire

Two Rivers


We are lucky enough at Steppe to have published two articles (Issues 6 and 7) using Carolyn Drake’s photos of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya; those two life-giving rivers are at the heart of Central Asia. They define the region absolutely. The land between them, called Mawarannahr (the land beyond the river) by the Arabs, is the settled heart of Central Asia, the land outside them the haunt of nomads, and the interaction of the two provides the history, the culture, the arts that we know and  love today. Continue reading Two Rivers

Nowruz Mubarak!

A guest post from Audrey Jannin who lives in Dushanbe, Tajikistan

Sumalak (photo: J Cleuziou)
Sumalak (photo: J Cleuziou)

Mahbuba lives near the Zelyoni bazaar. Last year, she was responsible for preparing the sumalak for her mahalla (neighborhood). Sumalak is not just a simple brown wheatgerm soup but a recipe which brings together the whole community. After the coldish winter months, Nowruz—the spring holidays, celebrates the beginning of spring and the renewal of life. Sumalak, made from the first fresh green plants of the year, has the power to cleanse your body of its winter lethargy and prepare it for the coming year.

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Nowruz, Astana-style

A guest-blog from Alice Harrison who lives in Astana, Kazakhstan:

Norman Foster's Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, Astana (Photo: flickr/M. Ibrayev)
Norman Foster’s Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, Astana (Photo: flickr/M. Ibrayev)

It is little more than a week since I saw the ice village and sculptures erected here in Astana for New Year, knocked down – a clear signal that spring is on the way. For some time large-scale tulip decorations and lights have been appearing out of the snow drifts around Astana in preparation for Nowruz, and they are beginning to look a little less incongruous, as the skies are finally blue and the temperature during the day above zero.

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Here at Steppe we’re getting excited about Nowruz, Persian New Year, which is celebrated across Central Asia on March 21st or a day either side depending on when the spring equinox (the sun entering the sign of Aries) is observed. The festival is a grand celebration of the coming of Spring and each country has its own traditions. As a starter for ten, we thought we’d share this beautifully illustrated video of Nowruz, Iran-style. More to come on the different ways it is celebrated in the region in the coming weeks.

At the Crossroads: Contemporary Art from the Caucasus and Central Asia

'Untitled (from Dreams Series)' by Jamol Usmanov (born 1961), oil on canvas, 2010, 110 x 145cm
‘Untitled (from Dreams Series)’ by Jamol Usmanov (born 1961), oil on canvas, 2010, 110 x 145cm

If you’re up on your Uzbek Usmanov’s, you may well have heard of Alisher Usmanov – the billionaire steel magnate who has successfully diversified into telecommunications and new media, including a clever purchase of facebook shares that, it seems, netted him £1.4bn at their IPO last May. But you may well not have heard of Jamol Usmanov, an  Uzbek painter influenced by Sufi philosophy and the Eastern Sufi poetry of Rumi, Navoi, Nizami et al, although we like to hope he too will become a household name.

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Horsemeat: The Real Deal

Findus ready meals may not have reached Central Asia but there’s undeniably a very close alliance between man and beast in this vast tract of Central Asia.

Horsemeat section, Green Bazaar, Almaty (flickr/sly06)
Horsemeat section, Green Bazaar, Almaty (flickr/sly06)

A Kazakh nomads’ expression states, ‘Kazakhs are born on horseback’. If we take a leisurely canter from nomad life into the present day, we see the survival of horsemeat as a luxurious food in the Republic of Kazakhstan. Whilst on academic business there, I grasped the opportunity to pursue a sober study of this neglected subject. I visited two yamarka (outdoor markets) – one in Almaty, the former capital and largest city; the other 500km north in Stepnogorsk, a former closed Soviet town with notable levels of uranium, rare metals and gold. Continue reading Horsemeat: The Real Deal

A Central Asian panorama