Tibetan Refugee Artist in Pokhara, Nepal

The Art of Tseten Chomphel

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As I waited to fill my plate during the International Human Rights Day celebration at Tashiling Tibetan refugee settlement in Pokhara, kids darted back and forth through the dinner line, playing tag. When one of them unexpectedly scooted in front of me, I reflexively took a step back and bumped into Tseten Chomphel. He laughed, diffusing my embarrassment, and introduced himself. By the time we made it to the head of the buffet line we were chatting like old friends. For the next hour I sat cross-legged on the concrete floor of the community center with Tseten, his wife, niece and mother-in-law as he related how he came to be an artist and art teacher in Nepal.

Tseten came to Nepal from Tibet at the age of six. Like his older brother and sister before him, Tseten’s parents sent him out of the country to receive a better education than he could hope for in Tibet, especially since he’d shown great artistic promise from the time he could pick up a pencil. At the Tibet-Nepal border his parents handed Tseten over to his older brother who, with help from the Tibetan Assistance Agency in Kathmandu, arranged for him to attend school in India. After graduation, Tseten returned to Nepal, where he reunited with his brother and began focusing on his art.

Tseten Chomphel, artist and art teacher at Tashiling Tibetan refugee settlement

Tseten Chomphel, artist and art teacher at Tashiling Tibetan refugee settlement

Tseten's niece and mother-in-law

Tseten's niece and mother-in-law

Although he is happy living in Nepal, the forced separation from his family is a difficult burden to bear. Since the day he left Tibet, Tseten has seen his parents only once and they have never even met his wife. In 2007 the Chinese government finally granted permission for his parents to travel to the Nepal-Tibet border to reunite with their son, but only for six hours. They huddled together in the bleak landscape that marks the border between the two countries, enduring the scrutiny of Chinese soldiers as they shed tears of joy and despair.

Fascinated by his story, I could hardly believe my good fortune when he asked if I would like to see his paintings. At the elementary school he pulled aside a floor-length tapestry covering the front door of his tiny apartment in the teachers’ residence area and stepped aside for me to enter. A huge oil painting of a leopard chasing prey dominated one wall of the front room and smaller paintings covered much of the remaining wall space. He served up tea and offered me Yak cheese and dried sheep yank that his mother-in-law had carried all the way from Tibet, then pulled out a large portfolio and began spreading piece after piece in front of me on the sofa table, most of which were produced in watercolor on art paper that Tseten makes by hand, since canvas and oil paints are expensive and rarely available.

Tseten and his wife share tiny teacher's quarters

Tseten and his wife share tiny teacher's quarters

Leopard mural dominates Tseten's small living room

Leopard mural dominates Tseten's small living room

Though he is a talented painter, there is little opportunity to sell his work in the small camp that is tucked into a backroad off the main highway. An occasional tour bus arrives and disgorges passengers; most make the rounds of a couple dozen shops that sell Tibetan handicrafts and buy a trinket or two, but Tseten has no resources to open a shop and therefore no way to display his art. However, when he explained that it is possible to purchase his paintings by sending funds though Western Union, I offered to feature his work on my blog:

Portrait of Tibetan Utsang woman, watercolor on handmade paper, 20" high x 14" wide, 4000 Rupees (NRS)

Portrait of Tibetan Utsang woman, watercolor on handmade paper, 20" high x 14" wide, 4000 Rupees (NRS)

Evening scene, Stupa with Monastery, watercolor, 20" high x 14" wide, 3500 Nepali Rupees (NRS)

Evening scene, Stupa with Monastery, watercolor, 20" high x 14" wide, 3500 Nepali Rupees (NRS)

Gandruk Trekking Region with Fishtail Peak in background, watercolor, 14" high x 20" wide, 3500 Nepali Rupees (NRS)

Gandruk Trekking Region with Fishtail Peak in background, watercolor, 14" high x 20" wide, 3500 Nepali Rupees (NRS)

Fishtail Peak over Rice Field, watercolor, 14"high x 20" wide, 3000 Nepali Rupees (NRS)

Fishtail Peak over Rice Field, watercolor, 14" high x 20" wide, 3000 Nepali Rupees (NRS)

Fishtail Peak at Sunset, watercolor, 14" high x 20" wide, 3000 Nepali Rupees (NRS)

Fishtail Peak at Sunset, watercolor, 14" high x 20" wide, 3000 Nepali Rupees (NRS)

Traditional Gurung House beneath Fishtail Peak, watercolor, 14" high x 20"wide, 3000 Nepali Rupees (NRS)

Traditional Gurung House beneath Fishtail, watercolor, 14" high x 20"wide, 3000 Nepali Rupees (NRS)

Dhauligiri Trekking side of Fishtail Peak with couple in traditional Gurung dress, oil on canvas, 18" high x 25.5" wide, 6000 Nepail Rupees (NRS)

Dhauligiri Trekking side of Fishtail Peak with couple in traditional Gurung dress, oil on canvas, 18" high x 25.5" wide, 6000 Nepail Rupees (NRS)

Yaks in Tingri area of Tibet, oil on canvas, 26"high x 35.5" wide, 6000 Nepali Rupees (NRS)

Yaks in Tingri area of Tibet, oil on canvas, 26" high x 35.5" wide, 6000 Nepali Rupees (NRS)

Sunset over Water, oil on canvas, 13.5" high x 18" wide, 3000 Nepali Rupees (NRS)

Sunset over Water, oil on canvas, 13.5" high x 18" wide, 3000 Nepali Rupees (NRS)

Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu, watercolor, 11" high x 15.5" wide, 1500 Nepali Rupees (NRS)

Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu, watercolor, 11" high x 15.5" wide, 1500 Nepali Rupees (NRS)

Potala Palace mural in process

Potala Palace mural in process

Intricate lines of Potala Palace mural

Intricate lines of Potala Palace mural

Prices are quoted in Nepali Rupees (NRS), which exchange at a rate of 70 Rupees for every U.S. dollar at the time of this writing, thus a 3000 NRS painting would be approximately $43 USD. Buyers will also be responsible for the cost of shipping, which is available through FedEx or DHL. However, exchange rates fluctuate, so if you are interested in purchasing one of Tseten’s paintings, be sure to check the current exchange rates with a service such as XE.com. Contact Tseten Chomphel directly to arrange for a purchase. His email is ztennartist@yahoo.com, his mobile phone is +977 98039 04577, his Skype user name is tsetentsering, and his website is www.bluecanvas.com/tsetenartist.

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8 Comments on “The Art of Tseten Chomphel

  1. I too will share this on Facebook and Twitter – another example of what makes the Internet so wonderful.

  2. Pingback: Barbara Weibel and the Art of Friendship in Nepal | Travel Edits

  3. Barbara, thanks for sharing this man’s story. I am going to pass it along to my Facebook friends in hopes that they will join me. Such a heart-touching story. In spite of all his personal obstacles, he shares his gifts with us all. Well worth the ~$40 + shipping.

    • Thank you Darrin! I am sure Tseten will appreciate any exposure we can give
      him. He is very excited that I chose to write about him. I have teased him
      and said that I did so because he served me the best tea I had anywhere in
      Nepal, but that wasn’t far from the truth!

  4. Pingback: Tweets that mention Tibetan Refugee Artist in Pokhara, Nepal | Hole In The Donut Travels -- Topsy.com

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