Creative works of a young art designer, who produces new visual representations of Chinese characters combined with political messages, have recently become a sensation among the nation’s netizens.
“Some people write diaries, some paint pictures, while others record events with cameras. Since I am a commercial art designer, I want to use my design skills to express my views on issues and events that I feel strongly about,” said Chang Chin-sheng (張金昇), a graduate student at National Taiwan University of Arts’ Department of Visual Communication Design.
Five years ago, Chang began his creative product series, dubbed Devising Into Politics (設入政治), which upends the traditional look of Han Chinese characters by transforming their images in black on a red background.
His first work was Tibet Taiwan, with the two enlarged capital T’s the focus of the image.
“Tibetans are fighting for their independence, but Communist China is oppressing them severely. The sad plight of their struggle moved me deeply. Also, China wants to suppress Taiwan. Thus the first work I created was born,” he said.
Chang added that all his works come from what he sees and feels during the course of his daily life.
For instance, he said he was angry when Taiwanese taekwondo athlete Yang Shu-chun (楊淑君) was controversially disqualified at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, and this inspired another piece.
“That incident really upset me. Our government could not protect our athletes. They are part of the national team, but are not representing a real country and so they are always bullied by others at international sports events. After I chose the word ‘Nation’ (國), I searched for images of athletes in action to create that production,” Chang said.
His works may look simple, but they carry subtle, meaningful messages. The inventive alterations to Chinese characters contain humor that draw a knowing smile from viewers.
His work’s barbed criticism of politicians and government is often as effective as political cartoons.
“When President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was elected, he was afraid of citizens making commotions, and he used ‘barbed barricades’ (拒馬) — which in Mandarin can also be read as ‘refuse Ma’ — to surround the Presidential Office during his inauguration. A president who was elected by citizens of this country used barbed wire barricades to keep people away. It was extremely ironic,” he said.
Chang grew up in New Taipei City’s (新北市) Tamsui (淡水). He was the youngest child in the family, and followed his elder brothers by working at blue-collar jobs after graduating from junior high school. While working in a factory, a machine accident mutilated his left hand, leaving only one finger intact.
“For a year after the accident, I would not speak a word to anyone and totally shut myself off from the world. Later, I thought that I must go on with life, so I started off the ‘new life with my right hand’ then,” he said.
After graduating from Taipei Senior High School with a concentration in the arts, Chang got a job in advertising and later started his own workshop.
With his wife’s encouragement, he went back to school, entering university while launching his business. His friends led him to become aware and concerned with politics and national affairs, he said.
Chang said that due to his injury, he was more sensitive to social issues that matter to ordinary people.