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Artist Talk: Kalsang Dawa

  • IMA Gallery 2323 Pooley Street Wells, BC, V0K 2R0 Canada (map)

Join us at the IMA School to listen to artist Kalsang Dawa speak about his work and life. This event is by donation. Please note that Kalsang's talk is now Monday night instead of Sunday night so that folks can attend the Moonrise Film Festival at the Sunset Theatre.

Born in Tibet, Kalsang Dawa apprenticed with three of Lhasa’s most prominent masters of traditional art by the time he was fourteen. As a young man he walked across the treacherous Himalayas to join the Tibetan exile community in Dharamsala, India. For the next eight years Kalsang studied with the Venerable Sengye Yeshi, former personal painter of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Kalsang became a master of traditional painting, immersed in its philosophy and disciplined in its rigorous techniques.


Kalsang moved to North America in 1998 and began pushing the boundaries of tradition with an evolving personal style. Emphasizing art as a source of insight and healing, he conducted over 50 workshops at museums, galleries, Buddhist centres and educational institutions. His prints have sold at the Rubin Museum in New York, San Francisco Museum of Asian Art and UBC Museum of Anthropology. He was profiled by the CBC and Vancouver Magazine and featured in the film Dancing On The Hurricane.

Artist’s Statement: 

There are dangers in my quest for inner understanding through art.  As a traditional thankga painter in Tibet and Dharamsala, I learned how to bring alive a sacred landscape of Gods and Goddesses, with all their symbolic ornamentation. I knew their layered meanings, handed down over generations.  Thangka painting is a meditation aide for artist and patron, not a display of creative impulse. It demands respect for boundaries. My Masters told me: “Don’t mess with the Gods and Goddesses, you will disturb the world order.” Yet, I was always attracted to the dangerous face of innovation.


As a Tibetan artist in the West I have continued to use the unique semi-precious stone pigments and exacting methods of the thangka tradition. I have pushed past old boundaries, however, by disrupting traditional meanings and forms. To step outside the boundaries is to risk losing something -  the respect of your Masters and others married to tradition, or the comfort of a familiar path. It is dangerous to play with respected symbols; you may feel guilty of betraying your learned values or even what you thought was your most profound self.


New paths have no certainties or safe outcomes. But, they allow me to become more alive in the present. Through painting I want to reach for a better, more authentic self and to touch those who also have embarked on a journey inwards. Ultimately the painterly quest is not so much about finding anything but about recording the imprint of the journey.

Earlier Event: August 26
Artist Talk: Evelyn Armstrong
Later Event: October 12
Northern Exposure Conference