Seventy years back in the absence of digital printing, paintings were the medium of expression. Slowly digital photography and digital printing are taking over the services. But the art and aesthetics of painting are unbeatable even today.
RKCS Art Gallery located at Keishamthong is one such example. The gallery with a collection of 150 oil paintings by Rajkumar Chandrajitsana, the founder of the gallery, is drawing attention from people living across the globe. On average the gallery has a footfall of around 300 tourists a month. RK Budhimanta who is running the art gallery with his family witnessed Japanese tourists shedding tears while watching the paintings.
The gallery has a collection of historical paintings of the Second World War, Seven Years’ Devastation of Manipur, Anglo Manipur War, the Cholera Outbreak etc.
Paintings depicting the culture and lifestyle of various ethnic communities in the State are a unique feature of the gallery. Ras Lila classical dance, folk dances, indigenous games and painting defining way of life tell stories of the region to a great extent.
With archival sketches of the founder, art installation by his grandson Busho and contemporary paintings by his son Budhimanta, the gallery now hosts around 500 art pieces.
Recently the gallery was invited to exhibit paintings at Sangai Ethnic Park during the G20 summit in Manipur. Bhupendra Yadav, Union Minister of Environment and Climate Change also visited the art gallery during his recent visit. He is one among many officials who visited the gallery.
In an exclusive interview with his son RK Budhimanta, it was revealed that his father while on a trip to Brindavan experienced a racial remark of having a similar look to the Nepali people (often looked down upon by mainland India as they are engaged in labour and other pity jobs).
He decided to popularize Manipur with his artwork. RK Chandrajitsana wanted to popularize Manipur with his painting; he wanted to tell people that Manipur was a respected Kingdom at one point in time and that contemporary Manipur is a gem to explore. He dedicated ten years to researching and painting 150 oil Paintings for the gallery.
He gave up all commercial undertakings and was quite absorbed in telling stories of Manipur through his painting. He kept on reading books for his painting. A new building was built to host the artwork with all his savings, and he was successful in doing so. But he passed away without noticing much of the charm the art gallery has brought into contemporary society as he lived only about a year after the art gallery was inaugurated.
The legacy of RK Chandrajitsana is being continued by his son and grandson as they continue to paint and does installation work. RK Budhimanta and his son Busho would enthusiastically take the visitors to the gallery to explain about the paintings. Most of the paintings are also captioned for visitors. The gallery is run by donations collected from donation boxes and nominal guide fees often collected from visitors.
The gallery was extended in 2006 after the Union Ministry of Culture approved a grant proposal by RK Budhimanta. The extension helped in exhibiting more cultural paintings of the late RK Chandrajitsana which otherwise was not put up due to space crunch. RK Chandrajitsana’s family still dreams of having a spacious place for the art gallery realizing the spontaneous overflow of visitors.
Among the visitors from abroad, US and UK top the lists. While Bangalore, Kolkata, Pune, Kerala and Delhi score the highest number of visitors from the nation. In a recent visit by a group of around 60 students under the ‘Ek Bharat Sestra Bharat’ a feedback worth mentioning from the group goes by, “Without the visit to RKCS, the trip to Manipur would not have been fulfilling”.
RKCS Chitralaya was established in the year 1947 at the then Maxwell Bazar now Thangal Bazar. Painting signboards for private and government establishments and vehicle number plates are some of the services the studio provided. The studio space was a little crunch for painting big posters of Cinema Halls and Drama stages, so most of these paintings were done at the residence of the founder Raj Kumar Chandrajitsana.
RKCS Art Gallery was established on 5th May 2003. Ved Marwah, the then governor of Manipur invited his friend M.M Rajendran governor of Orissa to do the honour of inaugurating the art gallery in the presence of distinguished guests Okram Ibobi and M Nara the then chief minister and art and culture minister of Manipur.
RK Chandrajitsana passed away due to cancer on 20th November 2004 the day when former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh handed over the key of Kangla to the public. Gursharan Kaur Kohli, wife of Manmohan Singh was supposed to visit the RKCS gallery and she shared her condolences. His last painting commissioned by the Art and Culture department was given the final touch by his son Budhimanta. The same painting was handed over to the Prime Minister as a State gift.