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?
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.