At midnight, between the 7th and 8th of March, Uyghur artist Memetjan Abla (Abdullah) boarded Flight MH370 in Kuala Lumpur. He was on his way back to his wife and daughter in Beijing, after winning an award at the “Chinese Dream: Red and Green Painting” art exhibition and culutural exchange conference, held March 4 to 6 in the Malaysian city. As we now know, he never made it; the plane turned into fog somewhere mid air.
Who was Memetjan Abla? Or, who is he? I guess, that we must consider that he is gone, although it feels like he is still in limbo.
Slowly, a portrait starts to emerge of a passionate painter, who used oil as his medium. He was from Kashgar, where he taught art at middle school. His colleagues speak with distraught eyes of his passion and hard work; how he lived on 2-minute noodles while studying in Beijing, determined and focussed. In the photo, his eyes look just like that, serious, maybe even feverish.
His paintings convey to me what I think the soul of Kashgar would be like. I have never been to Xinjiang, but when I look at Memetjan’s paintings, I feel like I am standing there, on a roof in the old town, watching the strangeness of the changing city, along the Uyghur people in Outlook (above) who watch with distance the New People’s steel houses appearing like mushrooms after an autumn rain. It is something about the light and the colours that captivate me completely; the purple and yellow in Outlook, the January white in the winter market scene, the shimmering in the crumbling Kashgar old town houses.
What else do we know about Memetjan, who’s life just got put on some kind of hold just like that? He was 35, born in the same year as me; as a Generation Xer he would remember the Wind of Change, Chernobyl and the end of Apartheid. He might have listened to the same music as I did. He was talented, strongheaded, determined, fashinating, brilliant. About all the rest, all his thoughts, fears, emotions, dreams, I can say nothing. Just that his art will never die; his portraits of Kashgar and the Uyghur soul will never disappear, they are a mark in time, a barometer, an encyclopedium burning with iridescence.
It’s such a tragedy.
Image sources: Memetjan Abla’s website, Beijing Cream, CNN.