Art, as they say, is a way of life.
What started out as an idea ignited by passion for art between two artistic minds has grown into the Visual Artistic Studio of Trashiyangtse popularly known as VAST-Yangtse, a non-profit contemporary art center based in Trashiyangtse Dzongkhag.
VAST-Yangtse was founded by two art enthusiasts – Jigme Dorji and Chojay Tshering, both school teachers at Trashiyangtse.
The main aim of the club is to create a platform for artistically inclined youth in Trashiyangtse to exercise their creativity and to keep them engaged during weekends and holidays through artistic explorations and other socially useful and productive work.
Most of the members (ranging from age 6 to 18) come from nearby schools. “This club not only benefits the students of Trashiyangtse and nearby districts but the local community equally enjoys its artistic activities,” said Jigme Dorji.
According to him, it has helped foster interaction and exchange of ideas among youths including dropouts through a series of art workshops and art camps.
Jigme Dorji has sacrificed many things in life to promote contemporary art in eastern Bhutan. Besides teaching in schools, he actively engages himself during weekends and holidays by voluntarily teaching basic arts and spends his quality time interacting with the members.
Within a short period of time, the club has inspired and trained more than 300 students in learning basic drawing and sketching techniques since its inception. Currently, there are more than 35 active members from various schools and the services and facilities are provided to students free of cost.
VAST-Yangtse has organized many art and poster competitions and participated actively in various international art competitions to enhance the understanding of global issues and challenges faced by the world.
Every weekend, the members of the club gather exactly at 2pm and engage in activities like basic drawing, sketching, painting, and outdoor learning activities such as landscape sketching, nature walk with photography and cleaning campaigns.
The club also organizes art talks and camps, field trips and exhibitions. Further, to know more about traditional arts, the club invites local expertise to share their skills in traditional paintings, sculpture and VAST-Yangtse also renders community services as per the needs of the community.
Apart from its weekly activities, VAST-Yangtse has organized several art camps with an aim to bring youth together and exchange ideas through various forms of art.
The few art camps conducted so far are the summer art interaction camp in July 2017 at Kanglung, Trashigang with the theme, “Breaking down the barrier through Art” with financial support from the Indian Embassy in Thimphu.
Another winter youth art camp was conducted in December 20, 2017 with the theme, “Youth interaction through art” at Trashiyangtse funded by the Department of Information and Media.
Karma Dhendup, a member of VAST-Yangtse said that before the art center was incepted, Trashiyangste was found lacking in recreational facilities for youth. “The only thing we had was a football ground and a play station shop but VAST-Yangtse has helped youth engage themselves productively.”
Karma Dhendup said he is proud to be a member of VAST-Yangtse as he can showcase his talent in art and also contribute to community service.
Unlike traditional Bhutanese art, contemporary art started rather late in Bhutan.
The club was set up in line with VAST- Bhutan under the guidance of artist Azha Karma Wangdi in mid-2012.
VAST-Yangtse by now plays a vital role in promoting art education in eastern Bhutan. It serves as a gathering place for youth of the community by focusing on art education, social and philanthropic projects.
The biggest challenge Vast-Yangtse used to face was rental for its center. However, they shifted to a new place in March this year after being granted kidu of art materials and house rent by His Majesty The King.
“Budget constraints to conduct our camps, exhibitions and other activities is a major challenge,” shared Jigme Dorji.
Additionally, with increasing membership, the club faces staff shortage. With co-founder Chojay Tshering recently posted to Paro, the onus of taking care of the center is now on Jigme Dorji.
VAST-Yangtse has many accomplishments to its credit. Students have won several national and international prizes and certificates including the certificate of distinction from the 19thKanagawaga Biennial Children Art Exhibition in Japan.
Two members were recipients of the prestigious scholarship to study B.A. Fine Arts at the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Barodo, India and another awardee received a full scholarship to study B.A. Fine Arts in Bangladesh.
Members from VAST-Yangtse have also won the first and third prizes respectively in different categories including a cash prize and certificates of merit during the International Mother’s Day organized by the Bangladesh embassy in 2014.
Artistic activities help to break down barriers and build friendships, said Jigme Dorji adding that parents also actively participate in VAST-Yangtse activities by sending their kids to attend club programs. VAST-Yangtse has flourished and gained popularity within a short period of time.
VAST-Yangtse has also aided in the beautification of Trashiyangtse Dzongkhag. The club designed portraits of His Majesty The King and The Great Fourth and the Gross National Happiness wheel on the wall of Trashiyangtse school, took initiative to paint the rocks of Yangtse town as part of community aesthetics, volunteered to paint the town monastery, did mass cleaning at Chorten Kora and rock painting at Chumdu with the theme, “Awareness on the preservation of butterflies.”
So that the club can sustain itself, future plans include collecting an annual membership fee of Nu 500 per student who are below 18 and Nu 1,500 from the adult members while membership will be free for dropouts and destitute students.
Meanwhile, Jigme Dorji said that that membership fee encourages a sense of ownership in the club so that members can avail the club facilities responsibly.
Other plans incude expanding the club network to other dzongkhags especially focusing on the youth of the six eastern dzongkhags.
“We want to set up library rooms and a mini ICT center within our own space,” said the founder, “With such facilities, learners can easily access information to upgrade their skills and professional forte.”
Jigme Dorji’s vision is to groom the intellectual capacity of young art enthusiasts infusing it with traditional values to uphold the rich culture of the country.
Trashiyangtse Dzongkhag is an ethnically and culturally diverse area, which shares its internal border with China and India. Trashiyangtse is one of the newest districts in Bhutan and is known for its wealth of natural, historical and cultural resources. Most of its inhabitants are farmers.
Jigme Wangchen from T/Yangtse