Bhutan is today renowned for its rich cultural traditions of Buddhism and a variety of local knowledge and practices, which have thrived and developed for centuries. However, Bhutanese culture is now under severe pressures from the combined forces of modernization and globalization, just as its equally famed pristine natural environment faces new challenges. The Bhutan Cultural Library seeks to use new digital technologies to deploy the tools of modernization for documenting these suddenly fragile traditions to support their continued growth and vitality.
Many trace the beginning of Tibetan contemporary art to Gendun Chophel (1903-1951), an unconventional artist, scholar, and author. In the 1980s, a number of artists in Lhasa, many of whom trained at national level arts institutions in China and elsewhere, began creating works that drew upon traditional training yet transformed imagery in unusual and compelling ways. These early artists formed a group known as the Sweet Tea House. In 2003, the Gendun Choephel Artists' Guild was founded and based on the Lhasa Barkhor. In addition to significant artistic production taking place in and around Lhasa, and the export of their works abroad, numerous Tibetans outside Tibet are creating and exhibiting artwork throughout the world.
Prior to the 17th century, Bhutanese mural paintings were executed directly on plaster using ground mineral pigments and binders. Like thangka paintings, murals are created by first sketching out the proper iconometric proportions and the associated color notations. Artists then apply successive layers of pigment until the desired composition takes form. Later murals were no longer painted directly on the surface but rather on cotton ground which was then affixed to the wall surface.