By Htun Lyn Zaw
Renowned American author Charles Bukowski once wrote in one of his short narratives, saying that writing is the way he indulges the madness in him. Same would go for Picasso with painting, B B King with playing the blues, and so on. Similarly, after my interview with Ko Lynn Zin Yaw, I realize that his madness uniquely and simply lies in the art of arranging the Burmese Alphabets in creative ways to express his inner thoughts, in forms of visual poetry. His works can range from something that would put a sincerest smile on your face to something that would make you ponder upon existential conundrums (see artwork 1, 2, and 3). You can see in his works either visual poetry or alphabet paintings. He was kind enough to share his modest journey of these works of distinctive creation.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background? How did you get started with visual poetry?
It was way back in early 2013, when I saw typography of some English alphabets in an old MAD Magazine. I really liked them, so I figured I should do something similar with Burmese Alphabets. The idea originated then, but I was more into writing poems that time. So I was just at the experimenting phase with the alphabets.
By the first week September of 2015, I was somehow bewitched and could not stop generating the ideas on Alphabets. I started make a lot of them. I would make one, and put it up on social media, and I would get more ideas while I am doing that. My personal Facebook timeline was messed up with Burmese Alphabets. There were people who got them and liked them but there were also people who thought I was destroying the alphabets somehow. However, I was so pumped up about this new found love of mine, and I could not stop thinking about these 33 Burmese alphabets. I got to the point where I was mad and could only see these alphabets wherever I go. I would get an idea randomly when I go outside, and I would put that idea in practice when I get home. By the end of September, I had to make a separate page to post my works because I was annoying some acquaintances in my friends list.
I realized that concrete art is actually an emphasis of abstraction. I am a little confused. How would you define your work?
This was an issue when I made the page: to put a label on my works. Obviously I had to include Burmese Alphabets, since they are the emphasis of my works. The poet who first introduced the concept of visual poetry in Myanmar in 2004, Sayar Nyein Wai, encouraged me to use the word “conceptual.” I was quite hesitant about it, so I went with “visual.” Even though, these typography works largely correlate with poetry, and it is under the category of “poetry”, but I wanted to avoid people complaining like “Is this supposed to poetry?” Which is why, I started use “Art” instead. So the combination is “Burmese Alphabets Visual Arts.” The name was quite long. Then again, Sayar Nyein Wai told me again that it could be “Concrete Conceptual Art.” I really love it and slipped in the word “Concrete.” Hence, it is “Burmese Alphabets Concrete Visual Arts.” The label got way too long and unattractive. I figured I should leave it at that since I did not want to change anything anymore.
Aside from me, who is a self-proclaimed fan, what other kind of people do usually appreciate your works?
There are a lot. But this type of “visual poetry”, which emphasizes on the Burmese alphabets, was not around much before in Myanmar. There were, of course, a lot of paintings and photography projects which correlate with visual arts, but Burmese alphabets were otherwise. It is relatively new and strange to some people since they try to pronounce out these words. There are some of my works which correlates with sound (See Artwork 4), but the context is always changing. Those who get the contexts can mostly appreciate my work.
How do you practice your art? What kind of procedures do you go through to improve it?
There’s nothing in particular to practice with graphic design and other software, since I just use the basic Microsoft paint and Zaw Gyi font to do my works. I am not especially good with those graphic design related tech matter, so I just use Paint to grind on.
What kind of activities or events have you done or are you considering to do concerning with your works?
For the activities, I did a small exhibition last year, collaborating with the World Poetry event. It was not much, and I just moved into this apartment, and my room is not decorated with my pictures from the event as you can see it. With a friend of mine, I was able to establish a website called Burmese Vispo (visual poetry), where I can officially post my work of art. I got some recognition from it, and the result of it is that Yangon Heritage Trust asked me to do some works for their project (See Artwork 5). For the future reference, I am trying to collaborate with other visual artists to start a project, but the project is still in the process of materializing.
You can go check Ko Lynn Zin Yaw’s artworks at his page “Burmese Alphabets Concrete Visual Art” on Facebook or the website www.burmesevispo.com . His book for visual poetry will be released next month in November as well. Please stay tune to his page!