Choki Gallery Will Bring Bhutan to Denver This Weekend

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Casey Hartnett gave up a career in finance to travel the world without a plan -- just guided by his spirit. "If something felt good, then that's the path I chose," Hartnet says. "I just kept following beautiful things. If something made sense, then that's where I would go."

Through a series of twists and turns, Hartnett landed in Bhutan, a small country tucked between China and India. Harnett quickly fell in love with the country, and two years later he's created Choki, a non-profit that showcases art and cultures from developing countries. Choki will open its gallery space inside Carmen Wiedenhoeft on Saturday, November 1 with a permanent exhibit of Bhutanese artwork, including scarves, paintings, drawings, mandalas and photography.

See also: Review: Dmitri Obergfell Collapses the Old Into the New at Gildar Gallery

Bhutan is one of the last cultures that is untouched by globalization, Hartnett says, and he and Choki co-founder Andrea Pinto want to share that beauty with viewers in this city. They hope the exhibit can benefit both the Bhutanese and the people of Denver.

The featured artwork comes from a school in Bhutan that trains students in traditional arts and crafts. The school also serves as an orphanage that offers free tuition, food and lodging. In Bhutan, art is used as a means for trade, Hartnett explains. For example, tapestries and scarves can be exchanged for goods and wood carving is an essential skill of Bhutanese architecture.

Some of the most impressive pieces in the collection are the mandalas, which are symbols that represent the universe in Hinduism and Buddhism. They are extremely detailed and contain drawings of figures like temples, animals, gods and goddesses. Students spend years training to do these large canvases, using intricate grids for perfect symmetry and paint made from natural pigment.

The works require dedication and time, Hartnett says, and even though the school has electricity, its unreliability forces students to work mostly during the daytime. "The patience to do that is incredible," he adds. "One piece can take four months of daylight just sitting there for ten hours a day. It's pure perfection. It's one of the most captivating thing I've ever seen."

"Because it's not just about making art," Pinto adds. "It's about devotion. There's so much love in each piece."

Keep reading for more on Choki. The proceeds from this Choki show will go to support the school. They will also help to rebuild the Sheka Dra Lakhang Monastery, which dates back to 1346 and was destroyed by an earthquake in 2011. Their long-term goal with Choki is to establish a textile cooperative in Bhutan that will financially sustain the women.

Hartnett says that other countries could learn a lot from Bhutan, which doesn't focus on GDP or sales targets, but it is more concerned with the quality of its citizens' lives. The country has outlawed plastic bags and aims to be 100 percent organic in the next few years. "I hope [the Denver community] sees something that changes their way of thought," he adds. "Bhutan is a poster child for social well-being and how people should treat other people. There's no other country in the world that compares."

The gallery's name is Bhutanese: Cho means change of mind and ki means peace. The logo is designed to fit the eight-fold path of Buddhism. Hartnett says he wants the exhibit to make people more conscious and encourage them to follow their own paths. "What we're trying to accomplish is to change what people think for the better and see there are other truths," he says. "Our whole point is to share what Bhutan has to offer. We want our space to be for teaching and learning, and to have an open forum.

Choki will host an opening reception from 4 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, November 1 at 3542 Walnut Street.The gallery's regular hours will be noon to 4 p.m. Monday and Wednesday, noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, noon to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and by appointment. Contact andrea@choki.or for more information.

Follow Amanda Moutinho on Twitter at @amandamoutinho.

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