Art in Thimpu

Friday – This morning we visited an art school, the Thimphu Institute for Zorig Chusum, the thirteen traditional arts and crafts practiced in Bhutan. The school offers free instruction in all of these. The outside of the school is decorated with many inspirational sayings to motivate the students.

We visited classrooms teaching wood carving, weaving, sewing and shoe-making. In another building there were sculpture and embroidery classes. Upstairs, there were several levels of painting classes. Art students enroll here after the tenth grade for a six-year program. After that they can find employment in the arts which are valued highly in Bhutan. The instruction looked quite structured, with students replicating model artworks given them as exercises.

The gift store is where visitors can buy student artwork, from which students receive part of the profits. We did some power shopping at that shop, and also in another art store across the street. I bought a tapestries and couple of gho (Bhutanese menswear) which I will likely use as robes since putting them on in the traditional way is not easy and really requires assistance!

We walked a couple blocks to the Folk Heritage Museum, which preserves a traditional Bhutanese house. There were stalls for animals on the ground floor. Steep stairs led up to the kitchen, living quarters and a family temple on the top floor.  After that, it was time for more power shopping, and lunch.

A few of us went on to the Textile Museum which was a very modern and interesting place. We started with an exhibit of royal textiles then went up to the general exhibit. The textile art of Bhutan is intricate and beautiful. I would have liked to have spent more time there.

We finished with Olaf Van Cleef’s art exhibit in the building next door. We had met him earlier at Dasho and Ashi’s house. As a visiting artist, he was giving instruction to art students while we looked at his paintings. His work for this exhibition was Buddhist images incorporating jewels, which were again very amazing (that word again). A couple of us thought of buying one, but getting it back to the US would have been a big effort.

Leaving at the 4 pm closing, we ran into Kutira’s friend Patrizia Franceschinis (originally from Italy), her husband Lyonpo Ugyen Tshering and their Italian friends as they were entering the art museum for a reception. We also met Françoise Pommaret, an author and ethno-historian who has written numerous studies and books on Bhutan. So many interesting people!

So after that, we went on towards the hotel and the serious shopping! Remembering the old George Carlin routine, I bought more stuff and then another duffel bag to hold all that stuff! I visited a small art gallery Kutira recommended – very good paintings by young local artists, more in the modern style. I wish I had more room to bring home more stuff!

In the evening we went to The Zone, a karaoke bar owned by Dasho’s friend Namgay. With us was Ken, an Italian man living Singapore, plus Dasho and Ashi, Benji and Tandam, and their friend Eric, also from Singapore. The owner joined us later after our great meal of burgers, pizza and momos, plus Red Panda beer and some excellent dark local rum. As the restaurant was emptying out, we did a little karaoke!

I took out my iPhone, plugged it into the karaoke system and put on Matthew Human’s new album to great acclaim – Ashi tells me the Royal Family are big country music fans, who knew? She asked if Willie Nelson would be able to play here! (Alas, after checking with his management, I had to tell them Willie can no longer do high altitude tours at his age of 82!). Then we ended the evening walking back to the hotel, very, very happy after bonding with our new friends!