Cre­at­ing an iden­tity for batik

Batik is start­ing to be sep­a­rated from its cul­tural roots. How can we pro­mote batik with­out tak­ing it away from its roots?

The Jakarta Post - JPlus - - Contents - by D. S. Nu­gra­hani

It was not un­til batik was named by the UNESCO as a Mas­ter­piece of the Oral and In­tan­gi­ble Her­itage of Hu­man­ity in 2009 that pro­duc­tion in the na­tion be­gan to surge. Many re­gions with­out a batik tra­di­tion de­vel­oped one to as­sert their iden­tity. As a re­sult, after decades of slug­gish­ness, the batik mar­ket has en­joyed a re­vival. How­ever, the side ef­fect is that batik is start­ing to be sep­a­rated from its cul­tural roots, trig­ger­ing con­cerns among tra­di­tion­al­ists. How can we pro­mote batik with­out tak­ing it away from its roots?

Char­ac­ter and cloth

Batik is a piece of fab­ric painted with var­i­ous mo­tifs us­ing a dye-re­sist tech­nique with wax. The tech­nique is not uniquely Ja­vanese. Sim­i­lar meth­ods can also be found in China, In­dia, Ja­pan and western Africa. Re­searchers Rauf­faer and Juyn­boll said that batik mak­ing in Java owes its ex­is­tence to traders from Kalinga and Coro­man­del, ma­jor tex­tile cen­ters in In­dia that used a dye-re­sist tech­niques on wax. How­ever, the philo­soph­i­cal mean­ing in the mo­tifs made by us­ing cant­ing (wax pen) or de­sign stamps is a unique fea­ture of In­done­sian batik. The mo­tifs, both in­di­vid­u­ally and col­lec­tively, are sym­bols for com­mu­ni­cat­ing a mes­sage to peo­ple through gen­er­a­tions. There­fore, a batik mo­tif can­not be cre­ated hap­haz­ardly. The trun­tum mo­tif, for in­stance, sig­ni­fies sin­cere love and is of­ten used in wed­ding cer­e­monies to sym­bol­ize the hope that the new­ly­weds will stay to­gether for­ever. The

parang barong mo­tif sig­ni­fies the ul­ti­mate form of self- con­trol and is used by sul­tans when med­i­tat­ing or dur­ing rit­ual cer­e­monies to sym­bol­ize con­tem­pla­tion. Batik el­e­ments are tra­di­tion­ally de­fined, distin­guish­ing the prac­tice from other tex­tile prod­ucts. Batik typ­i­cally fea­tures a main mo­tif, fol­lowed by an isen-isen (small mo­tif), which fills the space within the main mo­tifs. Fi­nally, the back­drop, or isen, fills the space be­tween the main mo­tif and the bor­der de­signs that sep­a­rate rep­e­ti­tions of the main mo­tifs. The pat­terns are care­fully de­signed in terms of form, con­fig­u­ra­tion and har­mony, so that the end re­sult is com­plete and bal­anced.

Color is an­other fea­ture of batik, sig­ni­fy­ing the re­gion of pro­duc­tion. Yo­gyakarta, for in­stance, has batik with a uniquely so­gan (soil-brown) color with back­drops of pethak (white) and ce­meng (hi­tam). Su­rakarta, Cen­tral Java, also has so­gan- col­ored batik that is dis­tinct from Yo­gyakarta’s, de­spite an iden­ti­cal name. Lasem, on the other hand, has a batik of red blood, blue in­digo and Su­rakarta so­gan col­ors. Due to this unique com­bi­na­tion, Lasem batik is known un­der as Tiga Negeri (Three Na­tions). The for­mula of the wax used in the paint­ing process is also a part of a batik’s char­ac­ter. Cre­at­ing a smooth and com­plex batik mo­tif can be done only with a cer­tain type of wax. The har­mony be­tween tech­nique, mo­tif, philo­soph­i­cal mean­ing and color have made batik an art form of truly ex­cep­tional qual­ity. Batik and her­itage In­done­sians have a duty to pre­serve batik for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. It is some­thing that also has cul­tural and busi­ness as­pects, as batik is now part of the fash­ion in­dus­try. The goal of her­itage preser­va­tion is for the ben­e­fit of the peo­ple, al­though it is in­ter­con­nected with com­merce. It is un­for­tu­nate that th­ese two points of view of­ten con­tra­dict each other. From a cul­tural per­spec­tive, preser­va­tion means that batik should not be di­vorced from its cul­tural roots so that the ex­is­tence of its tra­di­tional val­ues is main­tained. How­ever, from the busi­ness point of view, preser­va­tion is of­ten seen as plac­ing shack­les on cre­ativ­ity. Preser­va­tion­ists of­ten say busi­nesses are de­grad­ing the val­ues con­tained of batik for the sake of mar­ket trends. Com­mer­cially pro­duced batik of­ten ne­glects the art form’s cul­tural char­ac­ter. A bridge should be built to con­nect the two points of view. Cre­at­ing iden­tity on batik There are many ways to cre­ate iden­tity through, in­clud­ing through col­ors and mo­tifs. Here’s how the So­ji­wan Batik Com­mu­nity de­vel­oped such an iden­tity. In­spi­ra­tion came from the dec­o­ra­tive or­na­ments and re­liefs of So­ji­wan Tem­ple in the vil­lage of Ke­bon Dalam Kidul in Klaten, Cen­tral Java. The Ce­plok Mendo- Li­man mo­tif, in­spired from the tra­di­tional fa­ble of the goat and the ele­phant, was cre­ated to sig­nify com­pas­sion, while the Mendo-Li­man mo­tif re­sulted from a com­bi­na­tion with a clas­si­cal mo­tif. The Mendo- Li­man mo­tif was also com­bined with a clas­si­cal Trun­tum mo­tif. The mo­tifs com­ple­ment each other and their com­bi­na­tion does not change their re­spec­tive mean­ing. Such is also the case in the com­bi­na­tion with the parang mo­tif. The mean­ing of both com­ple­ments each other and does not negate their in­di­vid­ual mean­ings, namely strong and undy­ing com­pas­sion. Col­ors can serve as a batik’s iden­tity and, as such, there is a ra­tio­nale be­hind ev­ery choice of color, such as to rep­re­sent the en­vi­ron­ment, to ex­ude cer­tain feel­ings, or to fol­low the rules of clas­si­cal batik tra­di­tion. Col­ors might de­pict the hilly en­vi­ron­ment with var­i­ous plants around So­ji­wan Tem­ple, with a brown­ish green is in­spired by two trees: ingi (Pel­topho­rum pte­ro­carpum) and jalawe ( Ter­mi­na­lia bel­lir­ica). The color on Mendo- Li­man uses syn­thetic col­ors with a ref­er­ence to Yo­gyakarta so­gan, while the Men­doLi­man-Trun­tum mo­tif uses nat­u­ral In­digo col­or­ing with a ref­er­ence to Yo­gyakarta’s blue-and-white ke­len­gan batik. Each piece of batik must ex­ude firm char­ac­ter so that it be­comes dis­tin­guish­able from a reg­u­lar tex­tile and to pre­vent it from be­ing up­rooted from its cul­tural roots, de­spite be­ing in­flu­enced by more mod­ern cre­ations. The ul­ti­mate goal is to pre­serve its tra­di­tional val­ues and fur­ther in­crease its fame as the batik of In­done­sia.

Mak­ing batik us­ing a tra­di­tional cant­ing, or wax pen.

A woman sam­ples tra­di­tional batik that has been given a con­tem­po­rary twist.

Work­ers at a fac­tory pro­duce batik-print items on a mas­sive scale.

Tra­di­tional batik re­quires de­tailed work done by hand.

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