In 2002, photographer Lisa Ross found herself far away from home — in the remote Taklamakan Desert of western China, in what is known as the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.
“I was looking for something,” she says, but “I didn’t know what I was looking for.”
She had been visiting a friend in Beijing but ventured out to the desert on her own. That’s where she first encountered mazars: handmade holy sites in Sufi Islam, built to commemorate saints who are buried there.
Several trips to China and about a decade later, Ross now has a book out — as well as a show at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City: Living Shrines of Uyghur China.
The Uighurs (also spelled Uyghurs) are Muslims who live in this remote part of China. And these sites are tributes to saints, who in their lifetime were deemed to have healing power that they carried to the grave.
The shrines are located sporadically throughout the sprawling region and are often unmarked. Some of them, Ross says, are easily 500 years old. The sites serve as destinations for pilgrims — who leave offerings in exchange for healing.
The Spirit of China’s Sufi Shrines
Media Credit: Lisa Ross