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Art & aesthetics as part of life

It's been 26 years since the Warangal-born Post-Graduate in Science from Kakatiya University settled in Baroda, which she calls a cultural city; the city that has changed the course of a career for the mother of two children, Dr M Balamani, a doctorate, art critic and a curator.

"I moved to Baroda with my husband and was busy with taking care of my children.

After they started going to school, I joined the University again to do an MA in Art History and Aesthetics that also included Art Criticism involving Psychology and Philosophy, which worked for me," she relates.

She was interested in art as a hobby since childhood, but it took a city as Baroda seeped in art and culture thanks to the foundations laid by the erstwhile King Sayajirao Gaekwad III, to revive her love for art.

"It was in the royal palace of Baroda that Ravi Verma had created most of his important works."

Balamani first enrolled herself in a hobby class and later got into the university to do MA, following which she worked as faculty and worked with modern and contemporary art, curated exhibitions and wrote on various subjects including the Filigree work of Karimnagar and Cheriyal Paintings.

It has always been the importance of art and culture and their relevance in lives of people that drew her interest, especially with relation to the age-old weaving treasure 'Patan Patola' – the unique double Ikat technique of Gujarat.

"When I was working with the artists, I saw them using a lot of textile motifs, and that got me interested.

I was also drawn to how Patan Patola has so much significance in well to do families.

Every woman surely owns at least one saree and it is kept with much care and passed on from one generation to another.

The traditional motifs that are considered auspicious like elephants, peacocks continue to be used even though there are also custom-made designs.

These sarees are worn during important occasions like weddings and baby showers," shares Balamani.

For the documentary, she spoke to one of the three weaving families.

"It is labour intensive work. At least 20 people work on one saree, which takes around 8 months to one year. Or they will not be able to match the demand.

There is a Master Weaver and the rest assist him.

More than employment, it is all about passion.

The saree cannot be created if there is no passion, understanding of the technique, knowing the process.

One cannot join the work for one odd year like employment. It is a commitment of a lifetime," explains Balamani.

"Despite being an expensive saree, it is an important part of Gujarati family, yet one does not know what future holds. The weaver, whom I spoke to, Kanaiahlal, is unsure too.

His daughters are the ones, who brought in new designs and the concept of scarves, dupattas, etc.

But they are married and the weaver wonders what will happen to his studio after he is gone," she adds.

Balamani also hopes to document the local crafts of Telangana and the way they link lives through tradition and conversations.

While she is happy with renewed interest in traditional weaves thanks to designers and boutiques that are adopting them; she says, "Only a few are in focus and are being promoted, while there are several other crafts and weaves lying in oblivion and in danger of being forgotten."

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