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Tenzin Nurbu Lama

I was born in Bantsang, a village in Dolpo, a remote district situated in the snowy landscape of western Nepal. My village lies at 4,500 meters and is known for its harsh climate. Dolpo is enveloped by snow for eight months of the year and its dramatic mountain landscapes are what I try to capture in my art.

Many of the people of Dolpo are nomadic depending much on raising yak and trading, as farming can only be done in the brief summer season. The staple diet of the region is tsampa (roasted barley flour), butter, tea and meat.

Through five generations my family has taken care of and resided in Dralung Monastery – the main monastery in Bantsang and one of the oldest in the region. In this period of time, my family has passed along the traditional style of art known as ‘thangka painting’.

From a very young age I watched my father and other relatives paint. In Dolpo, paper and pen are scarce so I would often draw on the sand and the snow. Slowly, I was trained to draw on wooden boards coated with oil and sand using a curved bamboo pen. This is the traditional style of training thangka painters in Dolpo. Many of my earlier drawings can still be found in the homes of my relatives in Dolpo. While I was also trained in sculpture and mask making, my favourite was painting and drawing.

For inspiration, I draw on my family, historical books, legends and memories of Dolpo including visions and dreams. I strive to give each painting movement and expression. While the painting is still, within it I try to capture movement and give life to the figures. Also, I integrate the culture and tradition of Dolpo into my paintings. Even the smallest details such as body postures and clothing reflect pieces of my culture and my home.

In 1991, I met Eric Valli. He had come to the monastery in which my family lived. He had come to do research and take photographs. At first it was surprising to meet a Westerner. I had never before seen a person with yellow hair and blue eyes. Eric and I travelled together and became very close. With his help, my art has been featured in photography books and I have had the opportunity to travel to France. In 1994, I got the chance to exhibit my paintings with sponsorship through the National Geographic Society. In 1998 my work was featured in ‘Himalaya’, a film about Dolpo, directed by Eric Valli. I have contributed drawings to a number of books and several movies including a children’s book based on the movie. ‘Himalaya’. In 2001, at the invitation of two friends, Ken Bauer and Sienna Craig, I was invited to America to teach thangka painting for two months at Cornell University’s Johnson Art Museum in Ithaca, New York.

My future aim and hope is to help towards the development of Dolpo and its people while also preserving our cultural heritage and traditional styles of art. Since Dolpo is situated at such a high altitude and remotely located, livelihood is very difficult. Our villages are quite cut off from the modern world with the lack of vehicular roads. This makes it very difficult for the families of Dolpo. Most of the families in Dolpo have five or more kids. In my village area there are nearly 500 children. However, there was no school and no opportunity for learning within our village. Many of the students either went to the monasteries or migrated elsewhere for their education. One of my dreams is to help develop an education center in Dolpo that will also include vocational curricula such as our local arts (thangka painting). Trying to bridge modern education with a sense of preservation and respect to local culture and tradition is one goal of our school. With help of a French woman named Ann Le long, we have begun to open this school in my village concentrating on handicrafts, literature, and other important traditional subjects.

Email: dolponorbu@hotmail.com

 
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