ZIMBIRI, Mask (red) 1a, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 160 × 352 cm. Courtesy the artist. 


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In February, Bhutan welcomed the birth of its crown prince, Jigme Namgyal Wangchuck, the first child of the reigning King Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. The landmark occasion was honored with the nationwide planting of 108,000 trees. Bhutan, in its increasing interest to develop its tourism economy, is encouraging foreign visitors to come to the capital of Thimphu to participate in this ritual, with the aim of having a tree planted by a person from every country in the world.

Though progressing in its cultural outreach, Bhutan’s contemporary art scene is small and heavily dependent on private funding. The leading venue for contemporary art is the nonprofit Voluntary Artists’ Studio Thimphu (VAST), formed by artists in 1998 in Thimphu. VAST primarily organizes workshops and environmental programs for the local community. In November, it hosted a solo exhibition of Pema Tshering’s neo-traditional paintings of Buddhist iconography (11/3–17). VAST has a showroom, Alaya Gallery, and runs VAST Yangtse, a branch in northeast Bhutan that hosts programs similar to those in Thimphu. Though VAST had previously announced that the Khesar Award would begin in 2016, the annual national art competition did not take place this year.

Also in Thimphu is Terton Gallery, founded by Mumbai-based Bhutanese actor Kelly Dorji in 2011. The 100-square-meter gallery represents the works of several local and international artists, including VAST founder Kama Wangdi, and also houses a collection of antique monastic boxes and tables. Opened in 2012, Water Dragon Gallery is a compact, artist-run space founded by Pema Tshering and displays paintings and drawings by young artists as well as selling books and documentaries on Bhutan. Elsewhere in Thimphu, the Nehru-Wangchuck Cultural Centre held an exhibition featuring archival images of Rajasthan by Indian photographer Sudhir Kasliwal. It was part of Mountain Echoes (8/26–28), an international literature and culture festival organized by the government-run India Bhutan Foundation. 

Despite launching with a bang in 2015, as the country’s first major annual arts event, the Bhutan International Festival did not return to Thimpu in 2016. In its place, Bhutan’s Department of Culture and the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the Sri Lankan nonprofit South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Cultural Centre, held the SAARC Artists’ Camp in Thimphu (4/25–28) for the first time. Thirty-eight artists from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka assembled at the Namgay Heritage Hotel to create collaborative artworks, which were exhibited at the venue on the program’s final day. Of these artists, 10 were Bhutanese; five from VAST and five from the National Institute for Zorig Chusum, a center dedicated to traditional arts education.

Abroad, the Delhi-based Centre for Escalation of Peace organized the India-Bhutan Cultural Exchange and Art Camp in Bhutan in June, with another session planned in Delhi for February 2017. Ten Indian and Bhutanese artists participated in workshops, where they created artworks that were later displayed as part of the event. In Bangladesh, VAST members exhibited in the Dhaka Art Summit (2/5–8), where they presented a large, sculptural installation of a fish made from garbage, to raise awareness of environmental global pollution. In Hong Kong, Zimbiri gave a public talk on her work at the Live to Love Hong Kong retreat (12/8). 

In the United States, Bhutan-born Tibetan artist Tashi Norbu showed his thangka-inspired mixed-media paintings at Tibet House US in New York (3/11–5/10) and the Old Courthouse Arts Center in Woodstock, Illinois (10/6–30). 

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