Choki Traditional Art School
The Choki Traditional Art School (CTAS) was established in April 1999 as Bhutan’s only private traditional arts school. It provides skills-related education in the traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan at no charge to poor Bhutanese students who are unable to attend or complete a formal education or attend the National Art School. The school was set up to support the less fortunate youth and to assist the Government to meet its goals of preserving the country’s culture and tradition and to provide opportunities for gainful employment to youth.
Today, the school is well run by the seven-member Choki family and a faculty of eight. Until 2000, its operations were financed by the family and the school’s Handicraft Shop, where students sell their arts and crafts. In addition, in 2003, third-year students bid on and won a Government contract to paint and decorate a new government building in Bumthang with the proceeds returning to the school. By the end of 2005, the students of CTAS had painted 13 buildings, 3 of which were government jobs won by competitive bidding.
From 2006 until 2010, as the school grew, responsibility for all the operating costs, over and above that provided by outside student work and sale of handicrafts, was taken over by HYF. Then, in February 2010, responsibility for the financing of the CTAS school was handed over to the Fontana Foundation of Switzerland.
Significance of Art
Bhutan offers up a unique, highly imaginative artistry that has survived unchanged through the centuries. Until recently, this artistic heritage has passed smoothly from one generation to the next, from father to son, from mother to daughter. Modern technology, however, and other foreign influences threaten these millennia-old traditions. Young people no longer learn the skills from their parents.
By Bhutanese law, art is essential to the kingdom’s national identity as well as to its economy. Artists and craftsmen find ready employment, providing not only the elaborate ornamentation required on all public buildings but also in restoring religious murals and other iconography of Bhutan’s monasteries, temples, fortresses and other ancient landmarks.
The study of Bhutan’s music and dance culture is a very important part of the Bhutanese tradition. The students’ knowledge is enjoyed entertaining visitors with elaborate shows.
HYF first started working with CTAS in 2002 to help build a 100-bed boy’s dorm, a sanitary building as well as a prayer hall for their students. In 2006, thanks to a very generous donation, HYF was able to guarantee construction of a 50-bed girl’s dormitory completed in October 2008. The Leila Foulon Girls Hostel is now home to the first 15 girls to study at CTAS. HYF’s newest project will complete the campus with a beautiful new kitchen and summons building.
CTAS allows students who are not able to pursue their studies in the traditional sense to learn a trade that is central to the Bhutanese lifestyle. They enter the school when they are 13-15 and attend the school for six years. One of the best aspects of the school is that the students have all been employed at the time they graduate and receive their diploma. There is a high demand for those trained in sculpting, carving, drawing, etc. in order to preserve the traditional crafts and the school has built a strong national reputation over the years.
The school curriculum is run over a period of six years and is diversified to cater to the overall development of the student. As such, elementary math, English, geography and Dzonka (the national language, along with co-curricular activities such as games and cultural programs are incorporated into the art curriculum.
Traditional Bhutanese designs carved on materials such as stone, wood and slate create the most wonderful pieces of artwork. Carvings can be seen in much of the Bhutanese culture: Carved wooden masks of various shapes and sizes are used in religious dances; decorations are found engraved on house, palaces, temples and monasteries. Students are able to enter into carving contests and learn that their skill is very important for their country.
Sculpture & Embroidery
Clay sculpture is one of the ancient crafts in Bhutan. The other clay work found in Bhutan is the art of pottery. Clay sculpting is used to preserve the art of making statues found in many religious temples. Since adding the girls classes we have also added pottery, weaving and embroidery which were traditionally considered more of a women’s art form, but have risen in importance as part of the effort to preserve Bhutanese traditional art.
The art of Painting is as old as the people themselves and it has been passed down from generation to generation, from a master painter, lharip to novice students. This profession, like most others, is considered an act of reverence and devotion and painters are believed to accumulate merit and influence their karma.
Painters work on a wide range including painting simple motifs and the eight lucky signs to undertaking painting huge scrolls of Thangka and Thongdroel (paintings of images of Buddhist deities often painted on the wall or in simple cloth). Thongdroels are bigger in size and a mere sight of these huge scrolls is believed to deliver us to nirvana.
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Government building decorated by CTAS students