Batik: Indonesian Art of Textile

The pride of Indonesians to wear batik till the present day has preserved this art of textile.

Although the process of decorating cloth through the process of batik is found in several regions in Africa or India and even in some South East Asian countries, the batik of Indonesia is unique and unequaled. Indonesian Batik is made in several regions, but the center of the art is Central Java, in cities like Yogyakarta, Solo, Cirebon, Pekalongan and Indramayu.

The beauty of Batik is a tribute to the patience, creativity of the woman of Java, the main island of Indonesia. Credit should be also given to men who prepare the cloth and handle the dyeing and finishing process.

Batik is generally thought of as the most quintessentially Indonesian textile. Motifs of flowers, twinning plants, leaves buds, flowers, birds, butterflies, fish, insects and geometric forms are rich in symbolic association and variety; there are about three thousand recorded batik patterns.

The word "batik" is Indonesian in origin, even if the concept was known by Egyptians and Indians. It is known to be more than a millennium old, and there are evidences that cloth decorated through some form of resist technique was in use in the early centuries AD in several West African, Middle-Eastern and Asian communities.

The word Batik is originally an Indonesian-Malay word and means to dot .This art of textile is spread in the Hindu and Malay world, but Indonesia is certainly the heart of the Batik. This way of painting and coloring textile has reached its higher degree of excellence in the Island of Java , in cities like Solo, Yogyakarta, Pekalongan or Cirebon. From Java this 'batik' cloth was exported to other islands of the archipelago and to the Malay peninsula.

On the 17th century, the Javanese sultanate of Mataram accorded important ceremonial functions to the Batik clothes. Sultan Agung of Mataram is known to have dressed in white cotton decorated with Indigo blue, and his court dancers wore kain kembangan colored with a red organic dye.

During the past two or three centuries batik has become one of the principal means of expression of the spiritual and cultural values of Southeast Asia.

The art of "batiking" is similar to the one of drawing or painting on a piece of cloth.

The main tool, the canting ('tjanting'), is used instead of a pencil or brush, and liquid instead of paint.

Finely detailed designs are first drawn freehand with a pencil on the textile. Then hot liquid wax is applied. Here above, a Javanese woman applying wax in the intricately involved patterns with a canting (tjanting), a small copper container with a long slender spout. From time to time she blows on the tip of the canting to secure an easy flow of the wax. Areas not slated for coloring are filed with the wax. The cloth is then passed through a vat of dye. The wax is removed with hot water, scraped from the portions of the dried material still to be dyed. The parts that were covered by the wax did not absorb the dye and thus remain white (or whatever color the original cloth was previously dyed). Since the wax behaves as a resisting medium, this process is called resist-dye process.

Next, other areas are waxed over. This is repeated during each phase of the coloring process, up to four or more times, until the overall pattern and effect are achieved.

A canting with more than a spout (it can be up to seven) is used for patterns with dot forms. Basically, as an art, batiking is painting. The canting is used to produce the picture; its size depending on the type and degree of fineness of the lines or points desired.

Because of Indonesia's location on the trade route between North and South as well as from West to East, the North coast of Java was often visited by foreign vessels.

It results in a lively exchange of a variety of goods including ceramics and silks from China and the cinde or silk with the patola motif from the west of India. The foreign art and culture were absorbed and fused with the existing Javanese one, resulting in new works of art with their unique beauty. Merchants from all over the world came to the Indonesian archipelago: Chinese, Indians, Portuguese, Arabs, Dutch, and British.

The growing importance of the region as a centre of trade between China in the East and India and Arabia in the West saw the emergence of a great Southeast Asian empire, the Srivijaya. Textiles were already among the major items of trade, like silk, brocade and damask brought from China, and cotton from India.

Chinese traders had been settling on the islands long before the arrival of the European powers (British, Dutch, in particular). Each of them have influenced by their own taste the design of batik.

Although Central Java is the centre of Javanese Batik, the design evolves according to the part of the region where it is manufactured. We are introducing the different kind of designs which are related to the usage in the day-to-day life as well as in the celebrations and finally their characteristics by location as Yogyakarta, Surakarta or Solo, Pekalongan and Indramaju.


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