- Born in 1952 in Sasebo, Japan
- Graduate from KEIO University of Political Sciences
- Since 1977 living in India, Dharamsalla painting-
- Now, he holds exhibitions once in every two years in
Tokyo at SEKAIKAN GALLERY
'Exactly,' said Dumbledore, beaming once more. ...
'It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are,
far more than our abilities.'
J.K.Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
The life story of Kenji Babasaki is less about his being born in Japan than about his having left it, "just in time" as he likes to say. What he had in common with many young Europeans and Americans of the period was a near-revulsion for the cultural ideals towards which their respective countries seemed to be speeding. It was a time when Joni Mitchell sang:
They paved paradise, put up a parking lot.
In the early 1960s, India suddenly became the ultimate destination. Looking back, the revolt expressed by these youthful roamers and their rejection of a looming "airconditioned nightmare" may appear naive. Kenji did much the same things as most others of that backpack generation; we can skip the details. After finishing his studies in Japan he, like a handful others, made it to India:
I was travelling through India. Why did I travel to Himachal? I guess because it was summer, and it was getting too hot in the plains. Oh yes, I also had the address of two friends, temporarily settled in Kangra; she an aspiring sitar player and he studying tabla.
I didn't know anything about Tibet or the Tibetans living here in exile because the Chinese had taken over their land. I didn't even know about His Holiness the Dalai Lama; nothing ... Then after reaching Dharamsala, an architect friend told me about an amazing thangka painter living near the Library [of Tibetan Works and Archives]. I went to see him, asked if I could come in. He was so friendly - you know how Tibetans are, the thermos was taken out, "Sit down, have a cup of tea." All with gestures, of course; I didn't speak a word of Tibetan.
And I saw his work, in which he was soon entirely absorbed. He had no objection against my watching him and I did so for several hours. I had no idea that anyone could still produce such High Art; that in this twentieth century there were humans able and willing to do this. I observed his every gesture, spellbound.
By that time, I had grown tired of the hippie life, of day after day doing nothing, just lazying around. I saw what wonders this man, a poor refugee, did with his time!
And so, with more gesturing, I inquired whether I too could learn his art. That is: I pointed to his canvas and his paints; then at my breast; made the gesture of drawing, nodding my head with eyebrows raised in a question mark. In reply, he motioned I could come back to his place, indicated on my watch a circular movement: the next day. He showed me (by taking out each item) what I would need to get started: drawing paper, a compass, a ruler, a good pencil, an eraser, all of it available, albeit of appallingly low quality, in the lower town.
And so, before I realized it, he became my teacher and I his apprentice. I stayed with State Artist Champa Tsewang for eleven years in all, until he passed away on the day of the Tibetan New Year, 1988.
The die was cast.