An eventful year for artists 

Chhimi Dema 

Never before has Karma Wangdi, fondly known as Asha Karma and his team from VAST Bhutan, been busier than this tumultuous year.

Asha Karma is busy with his brush for an art piece for the Paro international airport project.  Some 15 young artists work with him on the project at VAST Bhutan.

In the huddle is Pem Lham, a 23-year-old Bachelor in Fine Arts graduate from Beaconhouse National University in Pakistan.

“We were busiest during the lockdown. We painted about 13 large Sintex water tanks for hand sanitizers. Then we were involved in making face shields with Project Hope,” she says.

Pem Lham says that even though she was not earning, she learnt much from the VAST projects.

The pandemic had cost the income of the artists, she says. “Not a lot of Bhutanese buy paintings. Our customers were tourists.”

As the fight against the pandemic rages on, artists from VAST lightened Bhutan with their 200m long mural at the Royal Flower Exhibition at Haa. The mural showcased the culture and traditions, flora and fauna of Haa.

“The artists’ community has been more concerned about how they can help to keep the spirit kindled in dark times and not about their sustenance,” says VAST executive director Chimi Zangmo.

“Generally, artists follow a minimalist lifestyle. Although the pandemic affected them because of their nature and virtue of the minimalistic lifestyle, they cope better.”

VAST’s volunteers were, also, engaged in creating content for a programme called Co Beat Art on BBS television.

The VAST artists recorded art and crafts activities such as painting, sketching, paper mache, among others for the show.

Due to the current situation hosting exhibitions had been impacted, says Chimi.

“The expectation of the artists during the exhibition would be many people visiting, however gathering is not encouraged.”

For the artists, VAST Bhutan studio has been their second home. 

“I am unsure about my future but VAST is helping me develop skills. This, I believe, will provide me with a livelihood,” says Deki, an artist at VAST.

Dorji Nidup, pursuing Bachelor in Fine Arts says that VAST is a temple to learn lessons and values of life. “In VAST we learn from one another and try to find our own style in art.”

Tandin Chophel, a highschool graduate, has learned to take advantage of the pandemic situation.

“The world is suffering right now. There are varied emotions in us. The situation sparks our minds making us creative,” Tandin says.

Individuals have different ways of looking at the world, but all these views are bound to be beautiful. Art embraces these different views, he says.

On November 1, coinciding with coronation day of His Majesty the King, VAST launched its magazine Life as Art.

The magazine provides a platform for individuals to share a piece of their mind. The opening edition was a tribute to His Majesty The King’s leadership and the frontline workers.

Voluntary Artists’ Studio of Thimphu, famously known as VAST Bhutan was set up in 1998 to provide a space for art enthusiasts to explore their niche in art especially contemporary art.

VAST Bhutan was founded by a group of artists: Asha Karma, Phurba Thinley Sherpa and Jampel Cheda.

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