Discovering Batik and Its History

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Discovering Batik and Its History
What do you think of when the word "batik" pops in your mind?
For me it used to be associated with beach resorts, tie dye (I have no idea why!) and South East Asia - rather cliche, right?  After many years of being in Singapore, I learnt more about batik through Tony Sugiarta, the owner of ANerd Gallery, an art platform that focuses on batik textiles and artist.

Two months ago, Tony gave a talk on batik at Fashion Revolution Singapore x The Green Collective SG and I discovered a fascinating world of motifs, colours and history.  Batik textiles are made by using the cantik  and wax to create a resist on cotton fabric. Once this resist pattern is created, it is dipped into a dye vat and then dried before the wax is removed.  The process can be repeated to create layers of depth with different colour and motifs.  You might see batik being sold at extremely low prices, but this is because they were most likely made and printed on machines - Tony explained to us that the way to tell the difference is to flip the fabric over onto the wrong side and you will find that the colours of machine printed batik have not seeped through, thus having a duller look.  On the other hand, the colours of hand-painted batik seep through the fabric and the intensity of the colours are the same on both sides! A piece of batik (at least a meter long) can take several months to complete by hand.

Influenced by History
During the talk, I discovered that the motifs on the batik has changed over the years in Indonesia.  These were influenced by when and where the artist lived, as well as the artists' ethnicity.

Tony explained that the mega mendung batik was influenced by the Chinese paintings of clouds.  I can definitely see that, and I love how they added depth to it too. I wonder how long this took?

Mega Medung Batik

If you can recall your world history class in secondary school, the Dutch controlled Indonesia for over three centuries, so there were also Dutch influences .  The use of more European floral motifs in the batik work was common too - batik buketan - buketan comes from the Dutch word "boeket" which means bouquet in English.

batik buketan

On a sad note, during WWII, the creations of batik took a turn for the worse, but as Tony explained, the pieces were still beautiful.  Due to rationing and a limited supply of fabric and colours, the pieces were passed between artists to create batik that had different styles and colours - a mosaic!  Who knows, each artist may have imparted a different story to the piece, creating an interesting story!

Influenced by Region

One of the fascinating things of batik textile art is that when you move from region to region, the colours and motifs change.  I learnt about Batik Tiga Negeri, where 3 Indonesian states (Lasem / Pekalongan / Java Solo) were involved in the batik process of this art.  The journey of the cloth would start in Lasem with Peranakan Chinese who would create and apply the wax patterns before going onto Pekalongan for the colours to be applied.  The cloth would then be transported to Java, Solo where more traditional Javanese motifs would be used.   I find this interesting because it allows each area to be experts in one thing, but by collaborating, they create the most expensive yet most beautiful work of art.  And, by the way, it can't be copied due to the intricacies of each stage!

batik tiga negeri

I had a great time learning from  Tony. If you want to find out more you can go to his website - he hosts tours to Indonesia, workshops and even sessions on how to wear your own batik!

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