A Recent Surge in Solo Art Shows Debate on Happiness and Development in Bhutan



A thought-provoking solo art exhibition titled “Money Cannot Buy Love” has opened its doors in the heart of Thimphu, The Capital Hotel. Offering a fresh take on art through the lens of sustainability. The brainchild of Brian Young, a visiting research student from the United States, the exhibition uses unconventional materials and powerful imagery to spark conversation about the impact of development on Bhutan’s unique culture and society.

Brian Young, a (Doctor of Philosophy) Ph.D. candidate in socio-cultural anthropology at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), has spent years studying Bhutan, fascinated by the nation’s Gross National Happiness (GNH) philosophy, which prioritizes well-being over material wealth. However, his observations during his current visit led him to explore a growing concern: the potential erosion of traditional values as Bhutan embraces modernization.

“I was keen to know about the contemporary life experience in Bhutan,” says Brian Young. “While researching, I noticed a shift in focus, where love seems to be increasingly associated with consumerism and economics, as opposed to the traditional emphasis on family, friends, and shared experiences,” he added.

This shift in focus forms the central theme of “Money Cannot Buy Love.” Young’s ten captivating art pieces, crafted from discarded objects like mobile phones, computer parts, and religious symbols, act as visual metaphors for the complexities of contemporary Bhutan.

Meanwhile, Karma Tenzin Choden, Gallery Art Director, expressed, “The unique collection features pieces crafted entirely from discarded materials, challenging viewers to contemplate the impact of materialism and development on our well-being.”

The artist Brain Young explained that one piece, titled “Is Bhutan Changing its Means to Happiness?” features a red carpet leading to a fence adorned with car parts and technology. He added, “It reflects and questions ideal contemporary life in Bhutan, created the gap between the haves and haves not through technology, where empty pots lie scattered outside the fence guarding the wealth and growing poverty.”

Another piece, “Uber Eatz,” depicts a car tire and fan alongside a rice cooker and Coca-Cola refrigerator door. He expressed, “It symbolizes the fast-paced, consumerist lifestyle that is increasingly prevalent in Bhutan.”

“Football for Dinner” represents an experience of games and having a spectacular cheer with musical drums and meals.” Moreover, he does have “Capitalism at Sport,” which depicts capitalism and businesses in a running race, protesting money over ethics and humanity.

Brain Young engages the audience with some questions like, “Does development always make sense? Comparison of the developed and underdeveloped and measurement of development. “The mini-exhibition makes an audience think,” said Brain Young.

Evenly, there is a single speaker with a microphone, which he kept for the audience to share their thoughts after visiting his exhibition. “Though his creativeness is active for the audiences with different exhibits, including thought sharing,” complimented Karma Tenzin Choden.

He even collected a garment from the Sakteng Highlander. “Which provokes the underdevelopment of higher-altitude people in Bhutan. However, more generation of electrolytes brightens the highlanders,” highlighting the stepping away from discrimination of few resources.

“Currently, people are lost with development, the Kuenga Rabten nunnery took many girls’ lives in broken homes. Translating into wisdom and invaluable for Bhutan’s growth and success,” he expressed the overloaded people with development where the conflict with humanity arises with a demo of a nunnery.

Through these thought-provoking creations, Brain Young aims to raise questions about the true cost of development. “My work focuses on how development is impacting the lives of Bhutanese,” he explains. “I want people to reflect on whether material wealth truly leads to happiness and what might be lost in the pursuit of progress.”

The exhibition has garnered significant interest from Bhutanese visitors and art enthusiasts alike. Voluntary Artists Studio, Thimphu (VAST), and the Gallery Art Director, Karma Tenzin Choden, of the exhibition expressed their appreciation for Young’s unique perspective.

“Money Cannot Buy You Love” is one among the series of solo exhibitions planned for 2024-2025,” said Karma Tenzin Choden. “The materials he has collected and the title he has chosen, ‘Money Cannot Buy Love,’ are particularly relevant to the Bhutanese context, where GNH is so important,” she added.

Young welcomes the opportunity to engage with viewers and learn from their interpretations. “People are curious and asking a lot of questions,” he says. “I am eager to understand how they perceive the concepts I’m trying to convey through my art.”

“Mostly, they feel curious about solo exhibitions, which are more focused on thought-processing exhibits,” he said. “It’s kind of a pun exhibition, where people usually ask for it, but I conveyed the real meaning with the practical exhibits.”

“Money Cannot Buy Love” is not just an art exhibition; it’s a platform for dialogue and introspection. As Bhutan navigates the uncharted territory of development, Young’s thought-provoking creations serve as a powerful reminder to consider the true meaning of happiness and the potential consequences of prioritizing material wealth over traditional values.

“The exhibition is open to the public at the Bhutan Art Gallery, located within The Capital Hotel, until March 27. Young encourages everyone to visit, engage with the art, and share their perspectives on the crucial questions he raises,” Karma Tenzin Choden reminded.

This series of solo exhibitions represents a significant collaboration between VAST Bhutan, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting contemporary art in Bhutan, and the Capital Hotel. Their collective vision aims to establish a vibrant platform for artistic expression and appreciation within the Bhutanese community.

As Gallery Art Director Karma Tenzin Choden expressed, “We are thrilled to partner with the Capital Hotel to launch this initiative. It provides a crucial platform for Bhutanese artists to showcase their unique perspectives and foster a deeper appreciation for the arts within our society.”

The journey towards this series began earlier this year when VAST Bhutan invited artists residing in Bhutan to submit proposals for solo exhibitions. “We received a diverse range of proposals, each showcasing immense talent and creativity,” shared Karma Tenzin Choden, Gallery Art Director. “It was a challenging yet rewarding process to select eight artists based on their artistic merit, conceptual strength, originality, and potential to contribute to the evolving discourse on art in Bhutan,” she added.

With the launch of “Money Cannot Buy Love” and the promise of the upcoming solo exhibitions, the Bhutan Art Gallery at the Capital Hotel sets the stage for an exciting exploration of Bhutanese artistic expression. This series serves as a testament to the collective efforts of VAST Bhutan, the Capital Hotel, the selected artists, and the broader Bhutanese community in nurturing and celebrating the unique voices within the nation’s contemporary art scene. Karma Tenzin Choden said, “Further exhibits will be carried out in collaboration with VAST and The Capital Hotel.”

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