Category Archives: News

Make A Wish in Norway

While in Oslo, Norway, my host took me to a small Buddhist center where people can come and browse through the library well stocked with Buddhist books, including “Buddhism for Dummies”. Its a nice quiet place in the middle of downtown Oslo, and also has a resident Lama – a Tibetan monk from Darjeeling, Lama Jangchub. Lama Jangchub gives teachings and meditation classes.

Anyway, the center is called Tashi Ling, and found something interesting on their notice board.

>> Visit Tashi Ling website

>> Find direction to Tashi Ling Oslo

Make A Wish in Norway

Signboard leading to the Tashi Ling Buddhist Center.

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A VAST Move

- By Dipika Chhetri

>> Original story by Kuensel

There is good news for those, who didn’t like climbing up the dingy stairs to get to the voluntary artists studio in Thimphu (VAST).

VAST will be shifting today into a transformed two-storey Bhutanese house, which boasts a new studio, gallery, café and a view of the clock tower square.

Members, who have worked for days on end with curious neighbours peering over their necks, are proud of the result – a blue paint splattered gallery with arty window displays, which will double as a library and café, an open upper level studio covered with paintings, and pieces of artwork everywhere else.

The café will sell cakes baked and donated by friends, and a special ‘Bhutanese chili’ momo.

The founder of VAST, Kama Wangdi alias Azha Kama, said the move was necessary, with the studio needing better space for the weekly classes for children, as well as the exhibitions that VAST holds.

“It was also an exciting change for everyone, we all needed a new project to come together for,” he said. “The location is much better now, too, and easily accessible.”

Despite the amount of work that has gone into preparing the new studio, VAST may have to move out of it in a little more than a year, because the building is old and may only stay up that long.

“People are surprised at how much effort we’ve put, but then we do a lot of work even for a month-long exhibitions. It’s all part of the fun,” Azha Kama said. VAST has worked from the old attic studio in a building above the Changlimithang national stadium for more than a decade now, ever since it was founded in 1998.

Started as an NGO to teach art to children, VAST conducted weekly art classes for children every Saturday since 1998, annual summer camps, and regularly exhibited the work of its artists, mostly youth, who have grown up with the art classes.

It also takes up philanthropic projects, such as building houses in rural communities, establishing a ‘rice bank’ for the very poor, who otherwise fall into debt, and taking old people on a pilgrimage to Bumthang. The projects include youth volunteers, who get the opportunity to help and interact with people from rural communities, who live different lives.

VAST expressed an interest to register as a civil service organisation last year, but it hasn’t yet applied for registration after the rules for application were released in January this year, despite its excellent track record.

Azha Kama said that there were many requirements that needed to be fulfilled, and a lot of work had to be done before it could apply for registration as a CSO.

Grand Opening

-Article by TshoTsho and Puki

Our new VAST Studio, a two storied old house with a cafe, library and a studio upstairs is now located at the Clock Tower Square. It took us more than a month to renovate the new VAST studio. After days of breaking down and fixing the broken pieces, the new VAST was something to look at.

May 15th was the day, VAST was reopening with a new gallery and a cafe. At 5 :30 in the morning Asha , tshotsho and babyla were getting things ready for the Lhabsa. Asha lam started with the Lhabsa and we got busy cooking breakfast, last minute preparation while Madam Yannick and Tandin were filming the opening sequence. After the Lhabsa all of us gathered at the front door waiting for Asha Lam and Asha to grace the opening. By 9 am guests, family members and friends started pouring in with gifts and donations for VAST. Everyone who came were welcomed with suja , desi and shamday.

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What attracted our guests to the “Newly Opened VAST Cafe” was the chilli momo(ema datsi momo),first in town, we had home baked cakes contributed by the members , friends and families of VAST as contribution for VAST fund raising.

The Exhibition was a success with everyone appreciating the Art works and the effort put up by each individual in creating the new VAST. Most of the guests showed their encouragement by buying paintings and encouraging them to continue their beautiful work. We owe our gratitude to all those who contributed to VAST cafe where the proceeds go to the VAST fund.

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When everyone was busy with their own responsibilities, Sir S. Bishwa was upstairs preparing a feast for VAST members. Everyone had a good meal after an eventful day.

That is not the end, Asha opened the champagne and everyone’s faces were filled with joy. We didn’t have a tashi labey dance , instead we had a modern tashi labey by bokto , aue kueron , tashi , aue chimi , thukten and Drakpa.

VAST New Studio

After more than a decade, VAST Bhutan is relocating to a new studio in the same locality. Presently, the members and students of VAST are busy revamping the place. The new studio is located at the clock tower square, a two storied Bhutanese house to the right of the Art Gallery. The new studio has a café downstairs.

VAST will officially move to the new place on 15th May 2010.

You are welcome to be a part of it.

VAST Spring Art Exhibition at the Alaya Gallery of Tarayana Centre

The Alaya Gallery of the Tarayana Centre was inaugurated on 17 March 2010 by His Excellency Madanjeet Singh, the UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and the founder of SAF (South Asia Foundation) with the opening of the VAST Spring Exhibition at the gallery.
The VAST Spring Exhibition is organized in honour of His Excellency Madanjeet Singh in recognition to his contribution to the promotion of young artists through SAF Art Scholarship. In Bhutan, the SAF Art Scholarship is the only art scholarship available to young people who are interested in pursuing art as a career.
In the last 7 years, 7 of our young artists got benefited by this scholarship and they are now working full time as an artist.
From 18th March 2010 the VAST Spring Exhibition is dedicated to Tsip and the exhibition will continue till the end of April.

Youth Interaction Through Art: A VAST winter camp

‘Youth Interaction through Art’ was the theme of this year’s winter camp and the venue chosen was Phuntsholing. Like all the previous camps, this camp was also set with a mission.

The first mission of this camp was to help setup an Art Club for the YDF (Youth Development Fund) Phuntsholing Youth Hostel. This Art Club would be a platform for young aspiring artists of Phuntsholing and for those art enthusiastic youths who visits Phuntsholing during vacations.

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The second mission was to build the interpersonal and communication skills of the participants through interaction. The members were made to share their dreams and experiences regarding art and life through interactive games.

The third mission was to boost the artistic skills and to nurture the artistic child of every participants.

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The camp started with the introduction of the participants. There were 92 participants in total out of which 82 were students including VAST members. Through the next 8 days, the participants were taught classes on art starting from basic drawing classes to colour theory, watercolour painting, acrylic painting and mixed media technique.

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Apart from learning ABC of art, the participants were also made to do an hour of social work every morning. This was organized to educate the youth on the social issues especially issues related to garbage problem that is springing up rapidly in Bhutan.

The last two days were reserved for productions, during which the participants created their masterpieces. The artworks were exhibited on the final day. The senior citizens of Phuntsholing along with Dasho Dzongda of Chukha Dzongkhag graced the exhibition and awarded the prizes and certificates.

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The 8 day camp was organized by VAST and YDP Nazhoen Pelri Phuntsholing and sponsored by OCEAN Foundation USA, Zimdra Industries, India House Club, Mahindra Banthia and YDF.

When Art Becomes A Social Medium

This article appeared in the inaugural edition of the “Drukpa” magazine.

Tashi Phuntsho Jr. of Drukpa looks at art and the individual through VAST.

The attic would not rate as a conventional place for imparting fine art, with an undersized studio and an even smaller administrative room. Enter the studio and you are taken to a different sphere with canvas and paintings, each with a story of its own. Fresh droplets of paint on the floor suggest that an artist has just been busy. Walk around the room and you soon get engulfed by the expanse of color. You can’t help but stare at the vastness of imaginations expressed.

This is the Voluntary Artists Studio of Thimphu (VAST), a popular haunt for artists and young art enthusiasts.

The Beginning

It was in the 1990s that Kama Wangdi (popularly known as Asha Kama), an artist then in his mid-thirties with the civil service, envisioned a platform where Bhutanese youth could express themselves through art.

With the lack of school curriculum on art, he felt a pressing need for someone to take the initiative. According to Asha Kama, the time was ripe to begin such a venture and harness the potential of artists to keep art not only alive but vibrant. The next generation would naturally be better equipped. This was the rationale behind VAST.

Asha Kama was not a bright academic in his school days but, with a sketchbook in front of him, he was at ease and peace, drawing delightful patterns.

“I was lucky to have teachers who encouraged me to concentrate more on my painting and drawing skills. They knew I was not the smartest guy in the class but sure did see some sort of potential in me,” Asha Karma recalls. “They believed in wholesome education.”

Asha sees himself as one of the lucky ones who could stress more on his artistry.
After failing the class eight common examinations, he dropped out of Yangchenphug school to pursue his love of the arts fulltime.

With strong recommendation letters from his teachers, he waited at government office doorsteps with a hope of pursuing higher studies in art. On every occasion, his lack of academic qualification let him down. Giving up on his hopes of finding an art school abroad, he finally decided to enroll at the National Fine Art Centre, Thimphu, where he spent several years as an apprentice studying traditional art.

Having chosen to pursue arts, the beginning of the road was the roughest with critics ever present at every twist and turn.

“Everyone had something negative to say about it. My father, a farmer, saw a different picture though. He told me it was a good profession where one could sit and paint and not have to endure the hard work in the fields,” he laughs.

In the end, determination and passion proved stronger than criticism and discouragement. A true artist was born.

By 1976 he had joined the government service as a full fledged artist. During the latter period of his service, he says he used to ‘bunk’ office on Wednesdays and Thursdays just to be able to teach young kids in school. After much deliberation and persuasion about the positives of letting the kids spend time with paint and brush, some teachers allowed their students the time though there were others who thought it would be time ill-spent. However, rejections never did deter Asha’s enthusiasm and, in time, the teachers saw the productiveness of his intent.

He carried this trend for a few years until his own protégées were capable enough to guide the kids. A generation was already holding the torch he helped light.

In these years of volunteerism, he realized that he had to do more to be able to reach out to more people. It was time to gather the like-minded, strengthen resources and start out stronger as a team.

“For many people, their generosity and wisest actions come out in selfless talk and brooding over situations while hanging out in fancy restaurants livened up by songs coming out of a stereo,” Asha said. “But this was not the case for us, four like-minded artists, who met in a bar with a clear focus on keeping Bhutanese art alive. It was there that our vision led to the foundation of VAST, the closest thing we have to a modern art school in Bhutan,” he said, recalling the night the idea of VAST was conceived.

Voluntary Artists Studio of Thimphu

VAST started as a weekend project with the main theme of working together and letting artwork speak for itself. As VAST formally came into existence in April 1998, 90 students turned up for the interview with their art portfolios for weekend classes. All 90 students were enrolled, not because they were great artists but solely on the merit of their interest.

An American friend of Asha donated US $ 200 acknowledging his vision. This amount became VAST’s foundation fund.

For almost a year, they used the Clock Tower, Changlimithang ground and friends’ office space for the classes. Finally, they rented a small space as their studio. VAST met their rental woes by organizing fund raising private parties and screening movies for friends. As the fund raising task became difficult, Asha gave up his own studio and moved into the VAST studio paying 50% of the rent. “This turned out to be a good move as we then had to raise only 50% of the rent,” he remembers.

Acknowledging their contributions towards youth empowerment, the Youth Development Fund in 2003 granted institutional support which now covers the rent.

Asha Kama stresses that VAST is not for a person who wants to get rich through art. It is a place that aids in honing and polishing artistic skill. Apart from focusing on promoting art, VAST also undertakes voluntary work for humanitarian causes. Monetary issues have always been secondary.

“When we started, we promised ourselves that we would not let monetary issues stop us in our endeavors. We haven’t dropped any project out of money issues till now. We have a hard time but we somehow manage,” he said.

He says that promoting and pursuing art in Bhutan is a struggle for him. “It is a happy struggle though,” he chuckles.

“Asha is one of the few who believes in doing a noble thing. He helps us by finding us jobs and letting us earn and improve our skills at the same time,” Kinga Wangchuk, an artist with VAST, said.

VAST links the artists to potential buyers for their art work. Thirty percent from the sale is kept as fund for VAST’s activities.

The Present

Even after 11 years of existence, VAST still is not financially stable. It, however, has plans to achieve the dream of establishing a platform for art enthusiasts nationwide. Its biggest hurdle now is to achieve Civil Society Organisation (CSO) status.

“For our survival and growth, having a CSO status is the ultimate goal for recognition,” says Asha Kama.

VAST now has three full time employees who manage and look after daily functioning apart from concentrating on personal artistic pursuit.

“The government has been very accommodating and supportive of our endeavors. We always got something like a pat on the back,” says Asha Kama.

Asha cites that being able to grow as artists and to have become more responsible citizens rates as the highest achievement of VAST. Such modesty comes naturally from the art director responsible for Bhutan’s award winning pavilion at the Hannover World Expo in 2000.

For the moment, Asha Kama is busy working on the proposal for VAST’s CSO status registration which he says is almost ready.

Asha Kama is now 51 but still, at heart, he retains a childlike love for youth, art and all that is beautiful in life.

Fact Box

  • Asha Kama has served the government as a traditional artist and graphic designer for 20 years until his resignation in 1996
  • In 1991, he received a scholarship to do a BA Honors in Communication media at Kent Institute of Art & Design, majoring in art direction and exhibition design
  • VAST participated in the 1999 group exhibition Art in Nature in the Netherlands
  • VAST set up the National Exhibition of Antiques and Cultural Treasures in 1993
  • VAST set up the 50th  UN Anniversary Photo exhibition in 1996
  • VAST initiated the redesigning of the Clock Tower Square in Thimphu
  • VAST organizes outdoor camping for carrying out various club activities with young students
  • Apart from teaching art to young enthusiasts, VAST also has some socially inclined projects:The rice project,Make a wish project,Build a House project

To date, more than 1000 students have been given basic training in art
There are 12 senior volunteers guiding the 60 active student members for the year

As a result of VAST endeavors, many artists are pursuing their career as successful freelance artists with various organizations around the country.

Founding members:

  1. Kama Wangdi
  2. Rajesh Gurung
  3. Phurba Thinley