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Dasho Choki Dorji

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

            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.