Darren Byler

Post-Doctoral Instructor, AnthropologyUniversity of Washington

Award Information

2014 IDRF Program

AnthropologyUniversity of Washington

The Art of Life at the Margins of Ürümchi: Aesthetics, Minoritarian Politics and the City in Chinese Central Asia

Following a series of riots in 2009, officials of Ürümchi, an ethnically-diverse border city in Northwest China, announced (1) plans to resettle 250,000 indigenous Turkic-Muslim (Uyghur) inhabitants from "slums" to state-subsidized public housing, (2) new incentives for migration to Han settlers from Eastern China, and (3) multi-million yuan investments in art projects across the city which address the official goal of "ethnic harmony." Routing my research through Uyghur and Han art collectives that have been created as supplements to this urban revision, this project will focus on the lived experience and cultural expression of these processes of cityscape revision. How is urban upheaval and resettlement shaping the future of a durable existence among the marginalized inhabitants of Ürümchi? How are artists who arrive in Ürümchi from different class and ethnic positions negotiating insider-outsider lines of demarcation? How does their repertoire of art practices and objects which they produce address the particular histories of the three million inhabitants of the city? Aimed at the intersection of urban studies, expressive culture, minority and migration politics, this research will consider the way late-Socialist Chinese planning policy is deployed and, in turn, how the embodied experience of the resulting upheaval gives rise to new forms of sociality and aesthetics.