Akbar Mijit's journey of artistic discovery along the 21st century silk road
‘From Kashgar to Camden’*
In bold, dynamic brush strokes, exuberant colours and rich textures ‘From Kashgar to Camden’ updates the story being told at the Royal Academy in their exhibition Turks: A Journey of a Thousand Years, 600 to 1600. The noble forefathers visited in that journey are the Uyghurs, the nomadic Turks of Central Asia and China. Referencing these whispers from history, ‘From Kashgar to Camden’ speaks vividly about contemporary life in the Uyghurs’ troubled homeland, Xinjiang (East Turkestan) – China’s ‘Wild West’ – through the life’s work of painter and teacher Akbar Mijit. Akbar’s that colour, and define, the physical and social landscape of modern-day Xinjiang (officially known as XUAR – the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China), providing a unique and timely insight into a richly cultured world that is little-known and fast changing.
Akbar Mijit was born in Kashgar, an ancient city on the Silk Road, in 1964. He studied art in the regional capital, Urumqi, and after graduating remained in the city to teach at the prestigious Xinjiang Institute of Education, before moving to London with his English wife in 1998. Akbar’s tertiary education had focussed on agriculture reflecting his foremost passion for the land, and indeed the culture and sense of identity rooted in it. From those early years, Akbar’s imagination was fired by the vibrant colours, exotic smells and rich cacophony of sounds that underline the traditions and day-to-day lives of his people. Each of his paintings emphasise the strength of this inspiration, and his own sense of purpose, while immortalising Akbar’s irrepressible energy and tenacious spirit.
Akbar’s premature death from cancer at the age of 37 means that the body of work that he has left behind is priceless to his wife and highly valued by collectors.
His Art a one-page ‘catalogue-in-brief’ is enclosed with this news release
Akbar’s flamboyant palette, extravagant use of colour, and bold expression of what he saw and what he felt, resulted in a truly extraordinary portfolio. For the first time, in a quiet East End cultural enclave not far from the hustle of Hoxton, the British public will be able to see Akbar’s wonderfully expressive oils on canvas and board – raw materials that may in fact be offcuts of his mother-in-law’s old linen tablecloth or precious timber salvaged from a skip. Tragically, some of Akbar’s seminal work had to be left in China and burnt as firewood, and now only exists as photographic prints.
A journey of artistic discovery along the 21st-century Silk Road, from the crossroads of civilisations in North-west China to the cultural melting pot of North-west London
*Uyghurs are a Muslim Turkic people – the largest ‘national minority’ group in China – indigenous to the area now known as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in the far northwest of the People’s Republic of China. Uyghurs make up approximately 47% of the 11 million population of the region, and continue to use their distinct language, Uyghur – of the Altaic group – and a cursive script, which is based on the Arabic alphabet, and which Akbar used as a recurrent theme, and potent graphical element, in much of his work.
Xinjiang (pronouced ‘Shinjiang’) is three times the size of France, and totals one-sixth of the PRC’s total land mass. Like Tibet, its immediate neighbour to the south, Xinjiang - meaning ‘new frontier’ – is an autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Xinjiang (formerly known as East Turkestan) borders India to the south, Russia and Mongolia to the north, and Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the CIS states of Kyrghizstan and Tajikstan to the west. Its position at the geo-political centre of Eurasia means that Xinjiang is of immense strategic importance in the new ‘Great Game’ between the region’s three emerging superpowers. This is a land of contrasts and extremes – the high alpine passes of the Tien Shan ‘Celestial Mountains’, together with the snow-capped Kunlun ranges, encircle the vast, Taklamakan desert (the name means ‘those who go in never come out’), an arid void on the map dotted with remote, much-fabled oases and desert vineyards. This is a land of gold and jade, oil and gas, and much prized melons and figs, where summer temperatures average 25 degrees but in winter plummet to minus 20-25. Its capital Urumqi, long isolated until the last century, is the furthest inland of any city on the planet, located 2,000 miles from the sea.
Kashgar – the name means ‘a place as beautiful as jade’ – is the PRC’s westernmost city. Although the traditional way of life in Kashgar faces increasing pressure from a growing Chinese population and accelerated urbanisation, each Sunday over 100,000 people, from all over Central Asia, gather on the banks of the Tuman River, at the heart of the city, to buy and sell wares at the ‘mother of all bazaars’. From first light, Uyghur women appear in rainbow-coloured atlas silks accompanying men wearing their intricately embroidered ‘doppa’ hats. They weave their way, on foot or on donkey-carts, cyclos or motorbikes, through the maze of narrow backstreets. All around them fathers and their sons toil industriously in workshops, hand-crafting metal, fabric, leather and stone, continuing the traditions of skilled craftmanship that have long been passed down through the generations.
*Note: Extracted from Akbar’s Art Exhibit ‘From Kashgar to Camden’ brochure. His exhibition organized by Akbar wife Sally Mijit in London from 12 May – Sunday to 22 May 2005.
London Uyghur Ensemble http://www.uyghurensemble.co.uk
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