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Bennington College

Publication Date

Spring 2014

Program Name

Nepal: Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples


Lying somewhere between art, craft and document, the place of calligraphy in Bhutanese culture is difficult to singularly define: individual practice and motivation conform to the predetermined aesthetic of alphabets, and creativity serves the pragmatic end of documentation. In Bhutan's ancient history, the art of handwriting developed out of necessity, used for religious records and correspondences Bhutanese society, given the convenience of digital text. While cultural preservation has been a political imperative in Bhutan since the 1960's, the preservation of traditional crafts is mostly limited to those that appeal to increasing tourist market. While the active preservation of Bhutan's unique cursive script is evident in recent efforts to program masterful handwriting into computer fonts, this method of preservation neglects the other elects of calligraphic art in its traditional form. The entire cycle of production, once in the control of the individual artist, has become standardized, and thereby incongruous with both traditional and modern intentions. Through discussion with calligraphers involved in the preservation of Bhutan's cultural heritage, this study examines the question: what exactly should be preserved? This study also provides detailed documentations of traditional material manufacture, in an attempt to illuminate the inexorable nature of calligraphic form and content. Can one isolate the product from the material, the material from the practice, the practice form the individual? What in this cycle is culturally extraneous, and what is worth preserving?


Arts and Humanities | Interdisciplinary Arts and Media