Harvesting colour from native flora
Vibrant colours on display at the Batik: Exploring Natural Dyes exhibition in March. The assumption that natural dye-based products are dull and uninteresting is a myth.
the colour produced in Hulu Langat was more vibrant than the one produced at her mother’s home.
Just a 30-minute drive away from Kuala Lumpur, Hulu Langat remains blanketed with virgin forests. The flowing river provides pure water required for the natural dyeing process. Rainwater in Hulu Langat can also be used because of the lush hills and greenery surrounding the area.
THE JAPANESE CONNECTION
Sachio Yoshioka, the fifth-generation head of a 19th-century studio called Somenotsukasa Yoshioka (or Textile Dyer Yoshioka) which still employs traditional dyeing methods, revealed that some of the ingredients utilised for dyeing textiles in the Heian era
(794-1185 AD) found their roots in Southeast Asia.
To be specific, there are records from 1,200 years ago that Japan used to import pinang wood (from the Areca palm) and cinnamon from Malaysia for use in dyeing.
The JFKL’s inclination towards this vanishing art form was sparked by Yoshioka in 2013 when they presented the documentary Murusaki: A Man Fascinated By Colour at the Borneo Eco Film Festival in Sabah.
The master textile dyer, Yoshioka, was brought back to Malaysia by JFKL in 2014, for an exhibition of his work and a 10-day research trip was organised to Kelantan, Terengganu and Kuala Lumpur to observe the local batik-making scene.
Yoshioka was concerned that the preservation of both techniques and plants used in fabric making were in bad shape.
He found out about the blog Erna had set up in 2014, documenting her research work with Raja Datin Paduka Fuziah Raja Tun Uda on batik sarong Malaysia and asked to meet her.
THE PROJECT BACKBONE
The meeting with Yoshioka ignited Erna’s curiosity and enthusiasm.
“How I wish one day I could learn from you but I have no background in fine arts or crafts. I can do art management because that is my background. If you give me a pencil to draw, I would probably kill myself drawing,” Erna voiced during her meeting with Yoshioka.
“Skills I can teach. If you need to draw or write, we can teach you. Passion is something we cannot teach,” responded Yoshioka, opening the doors to Japanese natural dyeing techniques. The project just took off from there.
Erna considers herself lucky as her family was supportive of her initiative and helped make the project a success.
Raja Fuziah, whom Erna is working with, also provided her with access to learning opportunities through WCC.
The natural dye workshop in Hulu Langat was also given to the research team. The team merely pays a small rental for use of the property. Erna’s supportive husband took time off†to assist her with the production of natural dyes and the process of dyeing the fabrics, while her mother took on the role of feeding the team.
Erna sees the exhibition as just the beginning of the journey. “It’s a first step in a very, very long journey”, as she puts it.