VAST Bhutan, the canvas for expressions


Unlike traditional Bhutanese art, contemporary art started rather late in Bhutan.

The Voluntary Artists’ Studio Thimphu (VAST) Bhutan is at the forefront of this contemporary art movement. VAST Bhutan started in 1998.

With kidu in the form of studio rent from His Majesty The King, a group of artists who shared a similar goal to promote arts and crafts among Bhutanese youth formed VAST. It is aimed at providing a platform for Bhutanese art enthusiasts to nurture and develop their artistic potential.

Founder of VAST, Kama Wangdi (Azha Kama), said that the objective of starting VAST was to start an art movement and grow in paving the way for a creative society, nurtured for and by art. “My personal mandates are to share and grow along the young creative minds in art and life. I also see this as an opportunity to give back all the kindness and support I have received growing up as an artist,” he added.

Azha Kama said that the need for such initiative is vital for the growth of a creative society in general. “Particularly when we talk about wholesome education in this day and age. If art education is missing, then where is wholesomeness ?

Executive director of VAST Bhutan, Chimi Zangmo said that Bhutan as a developing country is challenged with addressing poverty and infrastructure development. For this reason, the focus on art and creativity is secondary.

However, VAST’s concern is that by the time Bhutan becomes self-sufficient and matures in understanding the importance of art and creativity, the society might lack the core values of a GNH society that Bhutan advocates. “Because the concept of GNH advocates achieving a harmonious balance between the material and non-material dimensions of development, the power of art and artistic expressions can help youth foster the value of contemplation, compassion and creativity.”

In 2014, VAST was formally registered as a Civil Society Organisation (CSO). Until it became a CSO, VAST functioned on the basis of volunteerism.

Engaging youth for a positive youth development and community service is an essential objective of VAST. Based on its objectives, the studio organises activities such as art education and philanthropic art.

The philanthropic art programme highlights community project – Make a Wish and Rice Bank. The programmes are aimed at promoting values related to social services, volunteerism and community services in the society. Although numerous camps such as Make-a-Wish and Rice Bank is initiated, lack of funding for the projects has limited its reach to the beneficiaries.

Weekend art classes are provided to students in the art education programme. More than 60 students attend these classes annually. Short term programmes such as photography, videography and installation art are also provided when instructors are available.

The art classes today are divided into Brave Hearts – classes for young adults and Young Hearts – for children.

VAST plans to develop and offer diploma level programmes under long-term programmes, expand basic art education to all parts of the country and offer advanced programmes in VAST based in Thimphu.

VAST will continue to organise art exhibitions, workshops and seminars, art fair at both national and international level.

VAST also holds an annual art exhibition for female artists. The exhibition, ‘Her Expression’ started in 2014. Azha Kama, said that few female artists in the studio had come forward with the idea to hold an exhibition solely for women artists in the country.

VAST operates on the support of its individual members, patrons, and well-wishers.

The opening of VAST Art Gallery at the Le Meridian increased exposure of the art works and the artists.

VAST is also a recipient of the National Order of Merit (Gold) among the 23 public benefit organisations in recognition of their services to the nation in volunteering and making an effort towards humanitarian values.

To the growing audience and popularity of VAST, Azha Kama said that the growth means a lot to contemporary art in the country. “Personnally I feel good that I am not alone and VAST will continue the journey.”

Phurpa Lhamo

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