Choki Traditional Art School
Choki Art School
CHOKI TRADITIONAL ART SCHOOL
"Empowering the unprivileged youth as custodians of distinct culture"
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BRIEF BACKGROUND OF DASHO CHOKI DORJI, Founder of CTAS

Traditional art and craft might have found a strong advocate in 73-year-old Choki Dorji. Choki Dorji

Choki Dorji started learning traditional painting at the age of 10 and never forsook his brush even during his long tenure in the civil service. After retiring from the High Court he fell back to his first love with a sense of mission--to preserve and promote the art.

"My life has completed a circle; I began my life with painting and now I am back again in this old world," said Choki Dorji. "I feel like a new man, reborn."

For him, every stroke of his brush is precious; every stroke embodies the colour of Bhutan's identity, culture and tradition. And he's determined to keep the "colours" glowing so that traditional arts and crafts serve as a vehicle in promoting Bhutan's rich values.

"We must preserve our values and customs, our culture and tradition," he emphasized, "This is one of our identities, if it disappears, it's gone for ever."

In his modest office in Kawajangsa, Thimphu, he unrolls a thangka of Mandala and points out the flaws, which he says, was painted nonchalantly since it was for sale.

He noted: "I have seen foreigners taking great interest and admiration in our paintings and other crafts, and more important, they come to learn about our rich cultural heritage and the country through them."

Since the art goes out of the country, he said, every artist must endeavour to make the best to ensure that the buyers discover the genuine satisfaction and pleasure in owning those products. "We should leave no room for mediocrity," he added. The painting of religious symbols and figures is also seen as merit-accumulating activities.

According to Choki Dorji, he started learning traditional painting on the command of the late King who had great interest in the traditional art and craft. At the age of 14, he painted the new Tashichhodzong and was one of the pioneers of the Painting School (now renamed as the Institute of Zorig Chusum) at Kawajangsa in 1967.

"I have been in traditional painting my whole life and now, nearing the end of my life, my humble contribution will be to pass the skills to the younger generation," he said. "I have seen that there are no initiatives from the private sector to preserve and promote our traditional art and crafts."

After retiring from the High Court, he established Choki Handicrafts in 1993 with support from the Ministry of Trade and Industry and UNIDO/UNDP. It is a small-scale enterprise specialising in traditional crafts such as wood carving, weaving, painting, sculpturing, embroidery, basket ware, and the manufacture of traditional furniture.

In April 1999, Choki Traditional Art School was established, in keeping with his aim to promote and preserve the intangibles that bind the cultural integrity of the country. The school, at the moment, has about 25 students, mainly from the poor families who cannot afford the modern education. It has a prescribed syllabus for five years. The school does not charge any fees although the school's financial position is shaky.

However, there is a glimmer of hope as their two-year knowledge starts taking shape in the form of products that are sold through Choki Handicrafts. The money is ploughed back to sustain the school.

One of the main problems faced by the school is space because of which not many students can be admitted. But plans are afoot increase the capacity so that at least 15 students graduate yearly.

Because of his fanatical zeal and on his insistence, Choki Dorji's daughter left school after class XII to pursue her father's dream. "I want my whole family to get involved in the preservation of the art," he asserted.

"I am not doing business and I am not interested in making money," claimed Choki Dorji. "But, I will not leave the work undone."

Source: Kuensel, National Newspaper


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