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.

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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.

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