Conserving the Traditional Art of Weaving
The mission of the Royal Textile Academy is to preserve and promote the traditional form of weaving.
Under the vision of her Majesty the Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck, the textile museum was opened in 2003. It was funded by the government and was a part the home and culture department.
The Executive Director of the Royal textile Academy (RTA), Rinzin O Dorji, said that donors who were interested in projects concerning the conservation of traditional art came forward.
“Discussions led to trying not only to preserve the old but also to promote the art of weaving and the idea of the RTA was born.”
However, it was only on June 13, 2011 that RTA was registered as a Civil Society Organisation (CSO).
Mission of the RTA
The mission of the RTA is to preserve and promote the traditional form of weaving. “Back-strap loom is very painstaking but the products are very beautiful and expensive,” said Rinzin O Dorji.
The government leased the land to RTA, on the condition that the academy build something beautiful, something that showcases beautiful architecture and an academy that would become a landmark in the city.
Today the RTA provide weaving programmes and also houses a conservation centre and a textile museum.
“The museum culture is very new in Bhutan, so initially it was only for tourists, the local people would come only if they had guests or guides,” said Rinzin O Dorji.
Now, with the temporary gallery set up and programmes such as the National Design and Arts Competition (NDAC), local people have begun showing some interest.
Such competitions are conducted in order to motivate artists. “These are to make them realise that what they are doing is also valued and that they are not just doing something that nobody really cares about,” she said.
Challenges facing the RTA
One of the main challenges facing the academy was in finding an instructor for the weaving programme who was an expert in the trade and who could also document the knowledge of the art, in order to standardise the whole instruction.
Keeping track of the people who have learnt the art was difficult. “It is also a challenge to keep track of our old students when we want to contact them for some feedback or for some study or interviews,” Rinzin O Dorji said.
The only time the weaving room is packed, she said, was during the school holidays when children come in. “These students spend their time learning something that is important to every Bhutanese and they do not get into trouble.”
She said weaving programmes are free. Initially, the academy wanted to charge a nominal amount for sustaining the programme, but the idea was put aside as people were not interested.
“Without financial incentives, people are not really forthcoming to learn the trade and our job was to get the people to know what it was all about and learn with us.”
During the initial stages, RTA wrote letters to schools in Thimphu inviting them to visit. However the response was not good, she said. “Currently, we are glad that many children with their teachers in groups visit the academy to learn about our textiles and arts.”
Formally inaugurated in 2013, the museum consists of a gallery for permanent exhibitions, which showcases a whole variety of textile weaves and a variety of costumes and a gallery.
A gallery below the permanent exhibition also conduct exhibitions on a variety of topics related to textile. The exhibition is held annually. “We conduct it according to themes and according to what is being celebrated in the country.”
Since the launch of the textile museum, exhibitions on themes of royal collections, the fourth Druk Gyalpo, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal had been showcased.
The executive director said that construction has been a very important component of their day-to-day activities. While the two buildings are completed, the third one is a professionally designed space that will be rented out for the sustainability of the programmes of the academy.
She said that it is Her Majesty’s wish and vision that funds generated from these rentals benefit not only the arts but would also ensure that these traditions do not diminish, and to provide a platform to showcase these products.
The COMO foundation, Singapore has been funding the programmes of RTA this year. The Labour Ministry, the CSO fund facility, Dr Frederik Paulsen, Mr Bickell, among many others, have been funding the RTA initiatives.
Rinzin O Dorji said, “We are not so much interested in the money that we make from the local people but in the number of people who visit the academy.” She said that this is a very important way of gauging success.
By Rinchen Zangmo (This article has been edited for the Bhutan Times)