For some people, the words “Uyghur clothing” usually conjures up images of young women dressed conservatively from head to toe in black.
Mewlan Turaq, a 24-year-old Uyghur man from Kashgar in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, is looking to change this stereotype and other misconceptions about Uyghur clothing that have arisen due to the influence of religious extremists.
Using social media, he has been attempting to educate people about the evolution of Uyghur clothing and the culture and history behind it by posting online several collections of hand-made clothing that represent the evolution of Uyghur fashion from the early 1900s to today.
Currently working to complete his internship at a local hospital in Xinjiang, Turaq said that he had been interested in the humanities and culture since he was a child. After coming across articles and shows that introduced the history of traditional clothing of foreign countries, he decided to “dig into Uyghur history in order to recreate the beauty Uyghur women possessed over the past century.”
While it’s understandable why those who live outside the region may not know that much about the ethnic group, Turaq explained that there have also been misconceptions about traditional Uyghur clothing among locals as well.
“There was a time, about five to six years ago, when certain regions in Xinjiang were influenced by extreme religious thought, which also influenced women’s clothing. Some people even assert that black clothes are Uyghur traditional clothing,” Turaq told the Global Times, adding that while there have been stage plays that portray what are supposed to be women dressed in ancient Uyghur clothing, this clothing was too colorful and not true to history.
While old photos may still be able to provide an objective look at what clothes from more recent times once looked like, for clothing from periods further into the past Turaq had to pour through written descriptions of clothing found in historical records and fictional stories.
“Every summer and winter break from university, I would visit antique shops in the ancient town of Kashgar and discuss with shop owners what they remembered about clothing culture,” Turaq said. “For clothing that was already lost, I could only refer to the clothing of neighboring ethnic groups and recreate them using my imagination.”
Yet it was not until 2016, when Turaq met Uyghur photographer Kurbanjan Samat, that he took the next step with his research. Over five months, Turaq and his mother, an experienced tailor, started to recreate these former fashions with their own hands.
In total, Turaq and his mother completed 24 sets of traditional clothing, five sets of modern fashion clothes as well as a few pieces of jewelry and accessories. Turaq said that he wanted to include the modern clothing because he wanted to combat the misconception that Uyghurs dress in traditional clothing all the time, while in fact they were always keeping up with fashion trends.
Samat published pictures of Turaq’s clothing on his “I Am From Xinjiang” WeChat blog, which he established to educate people about the region.
Under the label “1960,” netizens can see a Uyghur woman wearing a military style uniform and a cap with a red star. In one hand she holds a copy of the famous Quotations of Chairman Mao. The “1990” label see the same woman now sporting curly hair, black jacks and jeans, while the “2000” label shows her wearing a sun-top plus tights and high heels.
“We want to restore the fashions of different time periods and social and political backgrounds,” Turaq explained that he included these creations because he wanted people to see how Xinjiang was impacted by the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), and to show how the way people dressed in Hong Kong TV dramas became popular in the region after Hong Kong returned to the mainland in 1997.
“The year 2000 was the most open time for Xinjiang. There were bra advertisements on Uyghur language TV stations. And in the films from that time, The Turpan Love Song for example, the heroine dressed in a sun-top.”
Besides the photo set, Turaq also released a video featuring the changes in Uyghur fashion which has received a warm welcome by Chinese netizens. According to Turaq, he plans to release another photo collection and video in September about the clothing that was worn in 13 different areas around Xinjiang during the 1910s.
— (Global Times)
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