5cents a pound

An archive of inspiration, negotiating the world through artistic intervention

Claudine Doury: Loulan Beauty (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, & Uzbekistan)

I had read “Djamila”, by the Kyrghyz poet Tchinguiz Aitmatov, and it made me dream of the kolkhozes lost in the steppes and of its peoples : Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Kyrgyzs, Karakapalks…


From 2002 to 2005, I managed to travel to the Aral region in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, on the banks of the Issyk Kul lake in Kyrgyzstan and in Xinjiang. "Loulan Beauty" is the story of people from the middle of the world, heirs of sunken kingdoms, of fishermen without a sea, of children who dance to bring back their parents who work far away, of Lola who dreams of America, of men who listen to the sands singing, of girls with a thousand braids, just like those found on Loulan, their four thousand year old ancestor.

The inspiration for the project came from the discovery of the “Loulan Beauty”, a 4,000 year old mummy unearthed in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Thanks to the extreme dryness and the preservative properties of salt, the corpse was remarkably intact - her eyelashes, the fine hair on her skin, even the lines on her skin were visible… all revealing  Nordic origins through a telltale large nose, narrow jaw and reddish-brown hair.

The Loulan Beauty is one of more than 200 remarkably well-preserved mummies discovered in the western deserts here over the last few decades. The ancient bodies have become protagonists in a very contemporary political dispute over who should control the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

[…]Uighur nationalists have gleaned evidence from the mummies, whose corpses span thousands of years, to support historical claims to the region.

The Tarim mummies seem to indicate that the very first people to settle the area came from the west — down from the steppes of Central Asia and even farther afield — and not from the fertile plains and river valleys of the Chinese interior. The oldest, like the Loulan Beauty, date back 3,800 years.

Some Uighurs have latched on to the fact that the oldest mummies are most likely from the west as evidence that Xinjiang has belonged to the Uighurs throughout history.

read more via nytimes

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