Har­vest­ing colour from na­tive flora

New Straits Times - - Flair -

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.


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 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.

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