Thangka art mas­ter passes on knowl­edge

China Daily (Canada) - - TIBET - By LIU XIANGRUI in Qamdo li­ux­i­an­grui@chi­nadaily.com.cn

For 82-year-old Thangka art mas­ter Karma Delek, noth­ing makes him hap­pier than paint­ing be­fore his win­dows in his ru­ral home in Karma town of Qamdo county in the Ti­bet au­tonomous re­gion.

The town is known for its long tra­di­tion in mak­ing Thangka of the Karma Karchi style. For his­tor­i­cal rea­sons, the Thangka art here was heav­ily in­flu­enced by the Han Chi­nese cul­ture as well as oth­ers, mak­ing it dis­tinct from other styles.

Karma Delek has been rec­og­nized as an out­stand­ing mem­ber of the 10th gen­er­a­tion suc­ces­sors of the Karma Karchi Thangka art. He still paints al­most ev­ery day.

His fam­ily has been de­voted to Thangka mak­ing for gen­er­a­tions. His fa­ther was one of the best-known Thangka mas­ters in his time. Un­der his in­flu­ence, Karma Delek started learn­ing Thangka paint­ing when he was 8 years old.

As he re­called, learn­ing Thangka took ex­tremely hard work. Back then, he would paint from early morn­ing to evening, and of­ten con­tin­ued paint­ing by a but­ter-burn­ing lamp when it got dark.

There weren’t as many ref­er­ence books back then, and ev­ery new learner must copy af­ter the Mea­sure­ment Scrip­ture, a pop­u­lar book in­tro­duc­ing the art of Bud­dhist stat­ues mak­ing, he re­called.

He stud­ied with sev­eral Thangka mas­ters of dif­fer­ent styles be­sides his fa­ther. He be­came a well-known painter at only 16, when he re­ceived a spe­cial de­gree in Thangka paint­ing.

Karma Delek was in­vited to Qing­hai province to paint Thangka about a re­li­gious leg­end the same year. He vividly il­lus­trated the leg­end with nine pieces, and was highly praised then by the re­li­gious head in Qing­hai.

How­ever, he had to give up Thangka paint­ing dur­ing the “cul­tural revo­lu­tion” (1966-76), and tried dif­fer­ent oc­cu­pa­tions in­clud­ing teach­ing and be­com­ing a vet­eri­nary san­i­tar­ian. As China started re­form and open­ing-up in the 1980s, Karma Delek de­cided to go af­ter his pas­sion again.

Since then, he has also taken on the re­spon­si­bil­ity of pass­ing on the art. He started re­cruit­ing ap­pren­tices from all over Ti­bet and has taught nearly 500 stu­dents for free.

As he re­called, many par­ents asked how much it would cost for their chil­dren to learn with a Thangka mas­ter like him, and he would an­swer that he doesn’t charge at all, and even pro­vides them with free food and ac­com­mo­da­tion.

“Thangka art is an im­por­tant part of Ti­betan cul­ture,” said Karma Delek. “I must make sure that the Karma Karchi Thangka is passed on to fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. That’s the most im­por­tant thing,”

How­ever, he has strict re­quire­ments for his stu­dents. Ac­cord­ing to him, both tal­ent and hard work are im­por­tant for Thangka study. The tra­di­tional learn­ing method and a good teacher are also help­ful.

“My stu­dents must re­ally love the art and put in­her­it­ing the old craft be­fore other con­cerns, such as im­prov­ing their fi­nan­cial con­di­tion,” he added.

His grand­daugh­ter, Dets­ing Yo­dron, is one of his cur­rent ap­pren­tices, whose age ranges from 7 to 20.

She is also among the dozens of fe­male stu­dents Karma Delek taught in re­cent years. In the past, girls were not al­lowed to study Thangka, ac­cord­ing to Dets­ing.

“I wish I can be­come a great painter like my grand­fa­ther,” said Dets­ing, 18, who started learn­ing Thangka at 15, adding that Karma Delek’s metic­u­lous and hard-work­ing at­ti­tude had a deep in­flu­ence on her.

Karma Delek ex­plained that now it’s more ur­gent to in­herit than to in­no­vate so as pre­serve the value of Karma Karchi Thangka art, which is closely as­so­ci­ated with Ti­betan cul­ture and re­li­gion, and has ab­sorbed the wis­dom of many mas­ters since the 16th cen­tury.

He is grate­ful that in re­cent years, the lo­cal govern­ment has car­ried out mea­sures to pro­tect lo­cal folk and eth­nic arts in­clud­ing

Thangka art is an im­por­tant part of Ti­betan cul­ture. I must make sure that the Karma Karchi Thangka is passed on to fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. That’s the most im­por­tant thing.” KARMA DELEK THANGKA ART MAS­TER

Karma Karchi Thangka. It was suc­cess­fully listed as a na­tional-level cul­tural her­itage in 2008.

Ear­lier this year, 10 Thangka painters in­clud­ing Karma Delek, were pro­moted by the county’s cul­tural de­part­ment on two dif­fer­ent ex­hi­bi­tions held in Lhasa and Bei­jing.

Af­ter the ex­hi­bi­tions, the China Thangka Cul­ture Re­search Cen­ter in Bei­jing has booked over 364 pieces from Qamdo’s Thangka painters, in­clud­ing 64 pieces from Karma Delek.

The to­tal value is ex­pected to reach 20 mil­lion yuan, and all the pieces will be col­lected as part of a per­ma­nent col­lec­tion by the re­search cen­ter.

Cel­e­brated as a na­tion­al­level in­her­i­tor of Karma Karchi Thangka, Karma Delek has earned a se­ries of ti­tles and awards for his con­tri­bu­tion to the art. How­ever, he ad­mit­ted that what made him most sat­is­fied was the pub­lish­ing of the book about Karma Karchi Thangka in 2009. It was com­pleted with county govern­ment fund­ing of 600,000 yuan.

Karma Delek spent three years draw­ing 110 statue de­sign pic­tures for the book. Be­sides writ­ten in­tro­duc­tions, the book has 65 ex­am­ples of Karma Karchi Thangka pieces col­lected by monas­ter­ies or in­di­vid­u­als, in­clud­ing some of Karma Delek’s best works.

“It can be a text­book, and can also in­tro­duce Kar­mar Karchi Thangka to more peo­ple,” he said.

LIU XIANGRUI / CHINA DAILY

Thangka mas­ter Karma Delek, who has de­voted his whole life to the art, has been rec­og­nized as a na­tional-level in­her­i­tor of it.

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