Djarum Foundation Keeps Spirit of Batik Kudus Alive
The centuries-old Indonesian cultural tradition of producing wax-resist-dyed “batik” clothing has experienced a popular revival in recent years.
This was thanks to a combination of hard work from Indonesian fashion designers incorporating batik patterns into their collections and from UNESCO’s designation of the clothing in 2009 as a “masterpiece of oral and intangible heritage of humanity”. Today batik has become quite the common fashion item for Indonesians in both casual settings and formal events. Unfortunately, not all forms of Indonesian batik have enjoyed equal levels of popular recognition and success. Batik Kudus is one of them, which is why the Bakti Budaya Djarum Foundation (BBDF), an organization that has long dedicated itself to preserving and promoting Indonesian culture, has spent much of the past six years working tirelessly to bring this unique form of batik to the public eye. Keeping the flame lit It was in 2011 that the BBDF, after having spent two decades providing grants and funding to different artistic endeavors in Indonesia, decided to set its sights on popularizing the much-forgotten type of batik that originated from the city of Kudus in the northern coast of Java, the same city that gave birth to the Djarum Foundation’s parent company, Djarum. This deep historical connection between the company and the city gave the Djarum Foundation’s campaign to preserve and promote Batik Kudus a very personal dimension. “It was a way of giving back to our roots,” said Renitasari Adrian, the Program Director of Bakti Budaya Djarum Foundation. “We believe Batik Kudus is a form of national heritage with distinct beauty and quality, just not one that the people widely recognize, despite its exquisite quality.” Batik Kudus wasn’t always unpopular though. Thanks to its dense, rich and complex patterns and its strong multicultural influences that included Arab and Chinese motifs, it was a popular form of batik as early as the 16th century until the early 1900s. In the 1950s, however, Batik Kudus went on decline with the rise of the tobacco industry. As a result, many Batik Kudus artisans and makers felt that their line of work just wasn’t profitable, and went on to change professions and work in different industries. Whereas batik designs hailing from places like Pekalongan and Lasem continued to remain popular despite nationwide economic changes, the ones from Kudus suffered a drop in popularity, one big enough to leave only about two groups of Batik Kudus artisans numbering in total less than 20 people to remain in the city by 2010. Preserving its backyard heritage The Djarum Foundation’s efforts to preserve Batik Kudus began in 2011 with several development projects, such as training vocational high school students in Kudus with workshops to help them become a new generation of batik artisans. Aside from young students, the Djarum Foundation also taught older women to make Batik Kudus, in part to help them prepare for alternative careers should there be a decline in the local tobacco industry. The year 2011 was also the year when the Djarum Foundation opened up Galeri Batik Kudus to show off the beauty of this tradition. “We provided compensation for the artisans who made good Batik Kudus. We would also open Batik stands during big fashion events in Jakarta and Kudus where we would sell their creations,” Renita said, adding that these works would sell from Rp 150,000 to Rp 5 million depending on the nature of the batik in question. By 2013, the Djarum Foundation had expanded its efforts to include working together with local vocational schools in Kudus to have them provide Batik Kudus-making classes as part of their extracurricular activities. It also promoted Batik Kudus in the media. One of its biggest milestones in promoting Batik Kudus, however, came with its collaboration with famed Indonesian fashion designer Denny Wirawan, which began in 2015 and continues to this very day. Balijava in New York Despite having no prior experience with Batik Kudus, Wirawan came to this project with a strong passion for promoting Indonesia’s rich heritage in clothing. Wirawan would work with the Djarum Foundation’s artisans in Kudus to help them come up with patterns that he could then turn to clothes for the runway. His ability to guide these artisans and give the traditional patterns of Batik Kudus a more modern and edgy look helped bring his Batik Kudus works gathered together under his Balijava brand to the Indonesia Festival in London in 2015. The collection’s positive reception there took Wirawan’s work and the beauty of Batik Kudus to the attention of one of the world’s fashion capitals. It found a place in the New York Fashion Week 2016’s Fashion Gallery. It was there that Wirawan showed off 15 of his then-latest looks for the fall and winter seasons. He presented ready to wear pieces with tops, outer, long skirts, pants, capes, and long coats that could be mixed and matched. The success of this collaboration has managed to not only popularize Batik Kudus abroad; it also made the clothing more appropriate for different occasions back home in Indonesia. “Since 2015, batik has also come to be used for dinners and cocktail parties, and not just marriage ceremonies and very formal occasions,” Renita said. Still, this success is not enough for the DBBF. It wants to continue to aspire to greater heights in its promotion of Batik Kudus. Lots of work remains to be done. Hopes and expectations The Djarum Foundation is already working with Wirawan for the next big project. Since December 2016, they have been preparing for a solo fashion show featuring even more ambitious Batik Kudus designs and patterns, set to be held in September later this year at the Grand Ballroom of the Hotel Indonesia Kempinski Jakarta. This show is meant to follow up on an earlier show the Djarum Foundation and Wirawan had held there in September 2015. Back then, the event filled up 1,200 seats. For this upcoming project, it wants at least 1,500 guests seated. Towards this end, it is preparing 85 unique new looks with the help of young textile designers from the Bandung Institute of Technology as well as with guidance from known Batik Kudus collector Agam Riadi. “Through Batik Kudus, we want to raise the sense of pride for Indonesian fabrics. By making batik more hype, we also want to raise confidence for other designers. We want to spread a virus that makes people love our culture and our country,” Renita said.