Selections from an interview with the late Amdo Jampa

Note: The panel featured selections of video from an interview with the famous painter Amdo Jampa where he discusses his friendship with Gendun Chopel. A special thanks to Enrico dell’Angelo making this footage available for the conference.

Gendun Chopel and I come from the same hometown. He was very intelligent, that’s why I liked him. We were friends for three or four years. I have some stories, but most of them I’ve forgotten, can’t remember…

There was a woman from the Horkhang family called Yangtong. I drew her portrait and asked Gendun Chopel to make a portrait also. Gendun Chopel gave me some advice [on portraiture]. When you draw a portrait, you have to look here [indicates space between nose and upper lip]—this is the most important. If you want to make a drawing well, you have to make this part not too long and not too short.

And the upper lip: make it not too thin and not too thick. Thicker is better than too thin.
And the temples of the faces cannot be drawn with too much concavity. It will not look good.
The color: When you draw young people you should use more green. It makes the person look youthful. For older ages, a really light pink will make the person look older.
He had a lot of this kind of advice, but I never saw him use color in this way.

Gendun Chopel and I painted a cabinet for Gendun Chopel’s student Sodor la. Sometimes I painted and he drew, sometimes he drew and I painted. A few years ago I heard that the cabinet was still there, but these days its whereabouts are unknown.

I went to the Barkhor, and on the northern side there was a studio of a Nepalese photographer. The owner and I knew each other. While we were chatting, I looked out the window. Gendun Chopel was walking around outside. He was alone, unaccompanied. He was wearing a coat that reached only to his knees, with a belt. And he was not wearing a hat. He looked just like a beggar. And across from [the studio] there was a ’bum khang. There was a Muslim near there, an old man with a beard. He was selling books, some of them in English. I watched Gendun Chopel, and didn’t call out to him. He went to where the Muslim was and sat down there. And the Muslim thought he was a thief because he looked like a thief or beggar. And Gendun Chopel then reached for a book and the Muslim said, “What are you doing? Don’t touch that!” Gendun Chopel laughed. And Gendun Chopel opened the book and read aloud in English, and the Muslim said, “Liar! Look at yourself. You act as if you know how to read English. Leave the book there.”

Gendun Chopel said, “Haha, I’m from Amdo, Qinghai. There are many Muslims in Qinghai. I am a Muslim; you are also a Muslim. Muslims should help one another, should not hurt each other. My appearance may be like a beggar, but still I am a Muslim. Don’t yell at me.”

While they were talking, a group of people in the Barkhor started to gather around them. Gendun Chopel said some Muslim words to the Muslim—Gendun Chopel knew some Muslim words. He was kidding around with the Muslim but the Muslim became so angry that he almost beat him. Still, he didn’t dare. Everyone was looking at them and laughing.

And at that time, behind [the book stand] was the Neu Shar Prison. Sonam Topgé was a secretary of that prison. He looked down from the building to see what was going on, and he saw Gendun Chopel there. And came down quickly. When he came down, the Muslim was still angry, and Sonam Topgé said [to the Muslim], “Kabum, what are you doing? You are so arrogant. Who do you think this is? This is great Pandita Gendun Chopel.” Sonam Topgé was someone who arrested people. And two people came out of [the prison], and the crowd moved back to let them through. And the Muslim said, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I made a mistake.” Gendun Chopel got upset, and said to Sodar la (Sonam Topgé), “What are you doing here? You have no business here. We are just playing around here. You are acting superior, you act like you’re a somebody. You’re showing off that you are a secretary. You have no business here.” And the other people said, “Sorry, sorry.” And Sodar asked two people to accompany Gendun Chopel away from the crowd.

Sherab Gyatso had many disciples. A lot of aristocrats were his disciples, and he controlled all the aristocrats. When Sherab Gyatso lived in Drepung, his courtyard was filled with aristocrats’ horses.

But Gendun Chopel at that time was really poor, he didn’t even have tsampa to eat. Their (Sherab Gyatso’s and Gendun Chopel’s) perspectives were different. Sherab Gyatso would go around Lhasa surrounded by a group of people and show off his power. And Gendun Chopel was a real beggar. When Gendun Chopel and Sherab Gyatso debated, the people who liked Gendun Chopel said that Sherab Gyatso couldn’t beat him. But people who liked [Sherab Gyatso] said, “Gendun Chopel can’t beat Sherab Gyatso.” Gendun Chopel told me, “[Sherab Gyatso] is powerful,” and that during the debate, “I answer [Sherab Gyatso] as [Sherab Gyatso] wishes. Otherwise he gets upset and scolds people.”

One day, Gendun Chopel and Sherab Gyatso debated on sems tsam rdul phra rab. First they talked about it, and then, [with a snap of the finger]—Khyap par tel—they started their debate and Gendun Chopel said he responded to him, and Sherab Gyatso got upset. Then Gendun Chopel made fun of him—he gave some really sharp answers back, and Sherab Gyatso became quiet. Then he yelled at Gendun Chopel, “Get out!” Gendun Chopel told me this story.

Translated by Pema Bhum.
Interview conducted by Enrico dell’Angelo.