PHOTOGRAPHS AND TEXT BY LISA ROSS
2005: The undulating patterns in the dunes went on for miles, mesmerizing in their conformity, perfect pencil-like lines, criss-crossing like a giant net over miles of dunes whose sole purpose was to shift with the winds and the earth. The dried reeds were pushed into the sands by hand, in perfect patterns, to hold back the desert so roads could remain clear and the travel from north to south and east to west could remain unfettered.
“Usually, the people have no choice, the government brings them out here from their village and they spend a month working on this project for food but no pay. They are told it’s for their homeland.” That is my memory of the words shared by my friend sitting next to me on the bus that day, who in 2017 would be disappeared and receive a 20-year prison sentence for the work which, for over a decade, earned her a PhD and an untold number of accolades. Folklore, or the preservation of Uyghur culture, was now considered a threat to state security.