Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Waxing lyrical Batik style.

By: Joanna Molloy

15 July 2009

Stepping foot on Malioboro, the main street and tourist drag in Yogyakarta, means being struck by the bedazzling array of Batik. Shops proclaim this to be the 'City of Batik', and I most definitely concur. Road-side stalls burst with colour as Batik is brazenly displayed anywhere and everywhere. It is all too easy to get caught up not only in the batik craze, but also in a pattern of consumption. First you are bargaining for a batik patch-work shoulder bag, and all too soon you find yourself laden with piles of intricately detailed cloth, eight bangles, a pair of flip-flops and five of the bags you initially wished to acquire (friend, friend, sister, friend, self). The most standard rule of fashion- to wear no more than one pattern simultaneously- is mercilessly abandoned as locals and tourists alike swathe themselves in this brightly patterned cloth..

Wandering along the colourful streets, I began to wonder how a textile had become so prolific; what could batik really means to this city? Yogyakarta offers a wide array of Batik: machine produced for the masses, finer handmade versions for the more discerning customer and Batik fine art for a select few. I mused over what role this textile played in Yogyakarta, not only culturally, but also in economic, traditional and social terms.

In this search, four students from the Monash team, accompanied by our charming student guide Ike, went on a journey to discover more about Yogyakartan Batik. We found ourselves once again in the Muhammadiyah Muslim community- Kampung Kauman. Teguh Ariebowo and his Father Lukman Jamali, an acclaimed Batik artist, took us on a journey to discover the real Yogyakartan batik. In the early days, Batik was of immense importance to Kauman when the majority of the community made batik for personal use, and some also made this their business. Today, Ariebowo's house is alone in Batik creation in Kauman. The decline in production and demand for handmade batik may be attributed to industrialization, outsourcing and unbeatable prices of factory produced fabric. However, there remains a market in which creativity, quality and skill remain competitive-within the fine art world.

We were privileged to be taught Batik by a master: Lukman is a renowned batik artist who not only exhibits in Indonesia, but also internationally. He has exhibited in the Netherlands and has a considerable client-base in Europe. Lukman studied at the Insitute Seni Indonesia in Yogyakarta within the sculpture department. As the institute did not offer a specific Batik art course, he independently adapted his skills to the traditional medium. His art appears Surrealist with the repeated motif of a mask, and it is not surprising to hear of his passion for the Dutch surrealist M. C. Escher. Lukman's works have greater popularity with a foreign market who may identify with his designs through a western framework of art interpretation as they are aesthetically familiar.

Lukman Jamali, world renown batik artst

Pak Lukman has a particular interest in painting dragons

Ariebowo took us through the steps to make our own first batik. We began by sketching our design on a piece of cotton. The canting, a traditional tool was then introduced to us. With this we applied melted wax to the areas of our design we wished to remain white, as Batik is a resist-dyeing process. This proved to be remarkably fiddly and at times messy, leading us to further appreciate handmade batik and understand the higher prices requested. After we had drawn our designs to the best of our abilities (and managed to make a rather impressive wax design on the tile floor), our colourful desires were unleashed.. We sponged the powder based, acidic dye on our cotton and waited in keen anticipation for the sun to work its magic, exposing the dye to create vivid colours. Once our fabric was suitably bright, we boiled and washed it to expose our finished batik designs.

The canting- the essential tool in batik making

Designing the pattern

The last procedure of batik making; the wash

Although the motifs we used were not traditional, and our art does not fit the conventional understanding of the Batik aesthetic, we did move closer to an understanding of the famous textile. Ariebowo and Lukman showed us that the process and the journey are all important. The mass-produced machine made versions are in our hosts perspective, “not real batik”. Through our investigations and brief foray into design, we became closer to true Yogyakartan batik, than we ever will at the stalls on Malioboro street.

With Ariebowo at Kauman after the session with his father


WRITER'S PROFILE: Joanna Molloy hails from Melbourne, Australia and has recently completed a semester of exchange at Monash Sunway, Malaysia. After Yogyakarta, she will embark on another adventure in Italy, completing her Italian major at L'Universita' di Bologna. Textiles send quivers of joy right through her body meaning this Batik rich Yogyakarta trip has been an entirely exhilarating experience.

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