It was on 7 April in 1998, that VAST was born. Today we are all of 11 years old. To celebrate our birthday, we have put up our annual VAST Anniversary Exhibition in our Studio in Thimphu. Joined by our friends, it is a special moment for all of us.
A variety of artworks are on display at the exhibition. It is a pleasant observation that there are no artworks of Dzongs, nor Taktsang, nor prayer flags. I would like to think that this symbolizes the maturity in the artists in all of us. It has taken us 11 years to think beyond Dzongs, Taktsang and prayer flags in our art.
The Bhutan Today had the following story about VAST on its 11th birthday:
Breaking Boundaries Through Art
Written by Dipika Chhetri
Voluntary Artists’ Studio, Thimphu (VAST) celebrated its 11th anniversary by organizing an exhibition at the studio located near the clock tower square yesterday. Artworks by the members were displayed. VAST was established by a group of artists along with Karma Wangdi, known to all as Asha Kama in 1998. VAST is a non profit organisation that has been giving the opportunity to young Bhutanese to learn art and nurture their creativity.
VAST conducts classes every Saturday for students and other members who want to learn art, in which basic drawing, sketching, oil painting, traditional arts, photography and graphic designing are some of the forms of art taught.
It also designs and implements social projects, conducts art talks, art camps and field trips to relevant institutions, and invite international artists to conduct art classes and exchange ideas, when they are in Bhutan.
A major activity of VAST is its exhibitions and art shows that it organizes regularly. The art festival, which will be an annual affair, was held in January, with this year’s theme as ‘Dragon Mania.’ It was a huge success, according to residents in Thimphu.
Asha Kama had always had a great deal of interest and talent for art. He always had teachers who encouraged him when he was at school in YHS, according to him.
“I had teachers who would bring drawing materials to class, and ask us to draw for charts, that is how we learnt,” he said. “Later, we had a principal who thought that art was something important, and he got an art teacher for our school.”
The art teacher was Indian born Naresh Sengupta, who was living in Uganda, but had to leave the country after Idi Al Amin’s rule. “That period was full of bad stories from that region, but there was atleast one good story, and that was his coming here to teach us art,” said Asha Kama, with a laugh. “If it wasn’t for his encouragement, I would not have tried to become an artist.”
Art is no longer taught in schools, and no school has an art teacher now, but Asha Kama maintains that the government never asked the schools to stop art classes. “It all boils down to the principal. They need to take the initiative, if they have the interest, they can introduce art in schools again.”
Incidentally, one of the factors that caused the birth of VAST was that teachers had no time to teach art in schools. Asha Kama offered his services as an art teacher free of cost in many schools like Changangkha and YHS, but the problem was that the teachers could not make time for his art classes along with their curriculum.
VAST came into existence when Asha Kama found that he was free from a nine to five job, and realized that it was time to do something. When he found that he could not take art to schools, he and some friends thought, ‘why not bring the students to us’, according to Asha Kama.
“We had a big dream from the initial stage,” he said.
“It was our responsibility to see that we encourage the young. But we didn’t want to ask anyone for help, we began by conducting classes in the clock tower square. And it is a big achievement to have come this far. Now we receive a pat on the back, people come and tell us what a great job we are doing, and that is our reward.”
VAST has always been more than a place to learn art from, according to its members.
The main objective of VAST has been to help the youth develop a sense of self worth, according to Asha Kama. “The main problem in unemployment today is not getting the job that you want to do,” he said. “You can be self employed, but we need places like VAST, where they can acquire a sense of self worth, where there is someone to give them a thrust in the right direction.”
VAST has been existing as a club and now the founders aim to establish it to be officially recognized as an institute.