This article first appeared on Asia Art Tours, a project that tries to highlight art and activism in Asia through media and travel. Follow them on Twitter @asiaarttours. This article is republished with the author’s permission. 

For victims of state violence or those witnessing its horror, knowing how to help and how to imagine a way forward may be the most urgent task.

With that in mind, I was joined by Yī Xiǎocuō 一小撮 (who has written for SupChina before), creator of the Camp Album, to discuss the current state violence and concentration camps built and managed by the Chinese government in Xinjiang.

In particular, we talk about why art and culture can be tools to push back against oppression and violence. “For minority populations that have been deprived a voice and freedom for so long, art is a way for self-empowerment and self-representation,” Yi says. 

“Even in the harshest circumstances, art has a way to deride power and authority to help people cope.”

Matt Dagher-Margosian: What can you tell us about your background? Why did you decide to start your website?

Yi Xiaocuo: I belong to one of the Turkic ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang. I was in grad school in North America when the situation in Xinjiang deteriorated after 2016-2017, and since then I never returned home. Yi Xiaocuo is my pen name, meaning “a small contingent” in Chinese, written as 一小撮. The Communist Party of China often uses this term to denigrate dissidents as just a “minority” that deserves to be violently crushed. I am now reclaiming this term to amplify the voices of those minorities.

Being self-exiled under these circumstances, I first dealt with the stress and anxiety through drawing and writing. Eventually I realized I was not alone, so I decided to document the community’s collective experience coping with the distress. It is also my hope that this project can reach more people and raise awareness on the human rights crisis and cultural genocide in Xinjiang.