KTD respects and preserves traditional Tibetan art, as few places dedicated to the transmission and propagation of Dharma in the West do. This enables us to contact not only Buddhist philosophy but also architecture and diverse artistic expressions that are manifested in this ancestral art, where colors, designs and expressions are filled with profound meaning and symbolism.
KTD is a project of His Holiness the 16th Karmapa and it happened with the collaboration of an artist that transformed this space in what we now see: Tinley Chöjor. This Tibetan artist was a seventh generation Tibetan dedicated to art. His family worked in the most important monasteries in Tibet, India and Nepal. This family of artists served His Holiness the Dalai Lama personally and was also at the service of the great masters of the four lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, making them a respected and recognizable family of artists.
Due to his determination and bravery he was able to survive years of labor camps in Tibet. His personal circumstances did not keep him from working his art for the next four decades. He went on to paint at many monasteries, including the Jokhang, the Potala, the Rumtek Shedra, Nechung in Tibet and Dharamsala, and the Kagyu Institute in Delhi, among many others.
Tinley was sent to KTD by His Eminence Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche in 1988 when construction began, and arrived at KTD with his wife Wangchen Pema, who stood by him unconditionally. The original plan was to paint all the walls at KTD in one of the more elaborate styles as traditionally done in Tibetan monasteries, following his family’s artistic tradition; and the final designs evolved into what one sees there today. He assisted in overseeing the process of construction of the Monastery, making sure that the walls were as required for the designs and colors to stay as if painted in a canvas. Also, he prepared stencils so that his students and apprentices could do the task with precision, as if he had done it with his own hands.
A very slim line separates Tibetan art and religion; it is impossible to conceive one without the other, so it wasn’t surprizing that after finishing his task at KTD, Tinley stayed in the Monastery in charge of the maintenance of his work. He died at KTD, of stomach cancer. He had many children, but only one of his daughters continued his intellectual and artistic legacy. She is the eighth generation of her family continuing to practice traditional Tibetan art.
KTD has become a gallery of devotional art, where visitors and students alike are exposed to Tibetan artistic expression from diverse masters. Amongst these are samples of calligraphy from His Holiness the 17th Karmapa.
Photos courtesy of: Alessandra Otero and Almendra Ramírez.