While in Bhutan, back in May of this year, I also had the wonderful chance to visit Voluntary Artists' Studio, Thimphu, known as VAST. In operation since 1998, it has been run by professional artists as a space for artists to share and create, as well as to provide opportunities for Bhutanese youth to develop their artistic talents. In promoting the importance and value of contemporary art production, VAST provides vocational and mentoring opportunities for artists and artisans to share their knowledge, talent and skills to a younger generation.
When I visited the space, artwork from younger students who were taking classes at VAST was being exhibited. Works from students of all ages--some as young as junior to middle school students, all the way to those with training outside of VAST--skill sets and mediums were exhibited in one democratic, supportive space.
VAST's artistic and spiritual figurehead, Kama Wangdi, is respectfully and lovingly referred to as Asha Kama. He kindly showed us around the space, explaining to us about his studies in art and his path to becoming a professional artist, and describing the artists behind the work that was being exhibited. His paintings--powerful and extremely well-executed work that layered on textures and symbols--were also exhibited alongside others' works. Asha Kama's works often feature Buddhist iconography using a combination of modern and traditional techniques; his thickly layered three-dimensional painting of a dragon in swirling clouds was captivating. While the experimental pastiche of modern and traditional sometimes produces mixed results, Asha Kama's work manages to achieve a fine balance, in a way that directly emulates the warm strength that Asha Kama himself exudes.
In addition to serving as an incubator for creativity, VAST is also strongly committed to evidencing the power of art to effect social change. For example, Asha Kama and his colleagues are currently working on developing a park by the river bank across from VAST's spaces. Their hope is to eventually create site-specific sculptures all along the river bank.
At VAST, artists are permitted studio space for their own artistic practice. We met Maiyesh Kr Tamang, a master potter who had built his own kiln at VAST. His beautifully executed bowls appeared to look strikingly similar in texture and style to the pots created by the potter who we had visited in Langthel Gewog. Serendipitous as it may be, it turns out that Maiyesh had taught the potter in Langthel Gewog his skills.
Keep up with VAST's activities here.
Thank you to Asha Kama and to Kesang Chuki Dorjee for so warmly inviting us to visit VAST.
Images courtesy of Ibba Rasul Bernardo, Tania Hyde, Dhruv Kazi, Helen Zhai, and Tania Hyde.