Amgalan Zhamsoev

Amgalan Zhamsoev is a Buryat language calligrapher and translator working in Ulan Ude, Russia. As an artist, he seeks to promote the Buryat language, a minority language closely related to Mongolian, within the Republic of Buryatia in Russia. Through his work, Zhamsoev aims to promote the rich cultural legacy of Buryatia, bring attention to the legacy of Russian colonialism in Inner Asia, and demonstrate the sheer beauty of Buryat and Mongolian calligraphy. He has participated in exhibitions in Russia and Mongolia. His most recent project was his contribution for Mongolian to Lonely Planet's publication The Art of Language, which details world writing systems and orthographic traditions. 

Artist Statement

The Buryat language (Western and Eastern Buryat) is included on UNESCO’s list of endangered languages. The Buryat people used the Mongolian script up until the early Soviet period, at which point, the transition to the Latin alphabet and then Cyrillic alphabets, the erosion of traditional life, as well as criticism of the original Buryat script, broke language transmission from generation to generation. According to some estimates, up to 70% of Buryats do not speak the language, or speak it with a degree of uncertainty. I believe that my work will help the Buryat people, as well as the whole world, learn more about the disappearance of minority languages, as well as unearth the sheer beauty of Mongolian written culture. 

Mongolian script has been used continuously by the Mongolian peoples as a means of transmitting oral speech; it exists as the world’s only vertical writing system, and therefore stands out sharply from a number of other scripts. Despite its appearance, Mongolian writing shares roots with the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets, and not with Chinese characters. Like the former scripts, it conveys sounds, as opposed to concepts.

Historically, Mongolian calligraphy was considered to be a means to clearly transmit the teachings of the Buddha. Therefore, a more concise calligraphy style known as kičiyenggüi üsüg became highly valued. In the 1990s, Mongolian calligraphy became more well known as an art form, its style continuously evolving until the present day.

I work using centuries old calligraphic techniques that I learned through books written by Mongolian scribes over the past 500 years; this enabled me to implement medieval Mongolian calligraphic techniques. In addition, I conduct experiments on the revival of the Mongolian paper casting technique and the manufacture of black lacquered paper.

I hope to preserve the fragments of Buryat culture and history that have been lost to our people over the past century, to magnify our presence on a world stage. I want us to ask not only of ourselves, but of each other - who are we without our language? Who are we without our culture? 

Using Format