Issan has long been acclaimed for its textile weaving traditions. Recently I had the opportunity to visit a weaving village, Ban Ton, on the edge of the town of Ban Khwaow in northeastern Thailand, know as Issan. I met Ms. Nujuang who kindly shared a wealth of information translated by my friend and guide, Mr. Ping. She shows some of her work in this photo, a typical silk matmee for local use as a skirt, wrapped much like a sarong, for important village functions.
Click on the photo to see more.
Indigo is making a resurgence in contemporary batik. It had been the primary source of blue color in batik for many years up until the introduction of chemical dyes at the turn of the century.There are a number of contemporary batik-makers who are discovering the beauty of indigo blue. Some are even growing there own indigo plants and producing the dye themselves. Here are some photos from two recent excursions into the world of indigo batik. Meet Hanafi, Iful, and Solikhin who are making great strides in re-introducing indigo to the world of batik again.
Then you should visit Vietnam where countless numbers of young artists, painters, copiers, entrepreneurs, students, whatever, produce paintings sold by the size. You can find copies of fine art, copies of photographs, original paintings, paintings in the style of other artists, whatever. Studio/galleries line the streets of the back-packer ghettos and paintings can be had for a back-packer’s budget.
Click on this photo to go to a gallery of photos from my recent trip to Vietnam to see more.
A recent trip to Ho Chi Minh City, surprisingly referred to as Saigon by most locals, especially younger ones, stimulated every sense to maximum levels. The visual of course is probably the most immediate sense to be stimulated. Here are a few photos yet to be labeled to show you what I mean by stimulating. Click on any photo to enlarge.
Three young students at SBO Children’s Center proudly showing off their work.
SBO Children’s Center is an organization started by an online group on Facebook (Sidang Batik Online) to maintain integrity and share information among batik artists and enthusiasts who exhibit and market their work online. It provides an ongoing forum for problem solving, creative inspiration, and marketing ideas. The online group saw the need to encourage youngsters to value their cultural heritage in batik and to help them realize the potential of batik as a means to self sufficiency. So the group organized a foundation supported by donations from its members to establish a school in Bantul offering free classes to children interested in learning more about batik. The classes are provided by various members of the online group who are devoted to sharing their particular expertise with young people. There are classes offered in the history and culture of batik, the symbolism of batik motifs, contemporary design, hands-on-technique such as the history and culture of batik, batik in everyday life, symbolism in batik motifs, contemporary design, and hands-on technique in the various skills of batik-making.
I had the privilege of being invited by my friend Bayu Aria, the leading founder of the organization and a very talented batik artist himself, to give a presentation on batik in the US. The student were fascinated to know about what Americans think about batik.
(Click in this photo to enter the gallery of photos from this workshop.)
Young trainee at the kelopmpok who is only 17 and very skilled with the canting. She is very proud of this batik and has been working on it for many weeks.
My friend and extraordinary batik artist Abdul Syukar (first person ton the left in the first photo below) recently introduced me to Berkah Lestari, a kelompok batik workshop in Giriloyo, Bantul, Jogjakarta. Kelompok translates literally as “group” but in this context it designates a collectively-owned enterprise, in this case a batik collective. There are 12 such collectives in Giriloyo. All of these have sprung up since the earthquake in 2006 that devastated the area and killed over 2,000 people.
2. Original design by Nani done in natural dyes.
3, Traditional batik motif
4. Looking over the production with Ibu Muyhoyoroh
Berkah Lestari has 50 members and they elect 6 members to act as a board of directors. All members are partial owners and decisions are made democratically. They range in age from 24 to 70 years old. There are ten active members who come to the workshop everyday. Some are expert in coloring, others in design, and still others in applying the wax to the cloth. The other active members all work at home. They come to the workshop to collect the cloth and get instructions, then take it home to work on it in between their other chores. Each member pays a small amount for dues each month. The kelompok accepts inexperienced beginners and offers training in the various skills required to make batik.
These are some young high school students who are being trained, some from special programs for sewing and design, and others just want to know about batik.
1. This boy is learning the batik process so he can understand how to use batik in fashion design.
2. A young trainee with a master colorist
3. Each student works on their own cloth from design to finished batik
4. Nani’s student shows off her work in progress
This kelompok’s structure is set like this: 10% of gross sales are to be divided among the active members who are working. The remaining 90% is kept in a fund for operating expenses, supplies, cloth, etc. At the end of the year the balance left in this fund is the profit and it is shared equally among all the members. About 25% of their coloring is done with natural dyes, and the rest are chemical dyes.
Another distinguishing characteristic of Cirebonese batik is the skill with which fine lines of color are produced. The most common fine lines seen in a batik in general are made using a canting (a pen-like tool used to apply wax to the cloth. After dyeing when the wax is removed from the cloth by immersing in boiling water, the fine white lines of the design motif are revealed, previously covered by the fine lines drawn by the canting in wax. The wax resisted the intake of dye. There is another method of producing fine lines, with the difference being that the lines are color and the background is left uncolored. The method to achieve this is logical to the resist process in that the area to resist the dye, in this case the background, is covered with wax. The fine lines are created by leaving fine lines of cloth exposed to take up the dye. When the wax is removed, the lines appear in color against a white background. The skill required to do this is formidable and it is in Cirebon where the technique has reached its highest level of skill.
This is a kain panjang with a contemporary arrangement of traditional Cirebonese motifs by Ibu Lia of Lia Batik in Trusmi, the batik village nearby Cirebon. Notice the cream-colored background. Upon closer inspection the fine lines of the design are in sharp contrast to the background. They were created by covering the background with wax to resist the uptake of the dye while leaving fine lines open in which the cloth can take up the dye.
Below: detail of kain panjang above Click on Photos to go to the album “Cirebon”
The batik of Cirebon has long been a favorite of mine. There are several techniques used there that distinguish the work from the batik of other areas in Java. One is the amazing gradation effect produced by multiple applications of lines of wax and the alyternating multiple applications of color to the mega mendung, or cloud pattern which is probably the most familiar and distinguishing motif in the world of batik. Almost any Indonesian who sees this pattern will immediately recognize it as one from Cirebon. The other technique which is actually much more difficult to produce, and the fine lines of color against a creamy white background, characteristic of many different motifs in Cirebonese batik. The fine lines are produced by leaving fine lines of cloth open to the dye bath, and the rest of the cloth covered to resist the color. It is in effect a reverse of the first waxing where the lines of the motif are laid on the cloth with a canting in wax, resisting the color in the dye bath, and producing white lines against a colored background when the wax is removed.
This is an example of a mega mendung batik by Ibu Ninik of Batik Ninik Ichsan that has nine lines of gradation (the most I have ever seen in a mega mendung motif).
Each line of color is a separate application of wax, the white line being the first. The area in red is also covered with wax at the beginning. Then the cloth is immersed in the first of many blue dye baths. Next a second line of wax is applied to create a line of wax covering the lightest blue from the first dye bath, and then the dye bath is repeated. Next a third line of wax is applied and a subsequent immersion in the same dye bath to create the a slightly darker blue line resulting from the repetition of the blue dye bath. This continues until the last dye bath creates the darkest blue on the batik. So it is a technique of applying color on color and covering it gradually line by line, each one successively darker, building up the hue to the deepest possible tone. After all of the desired blue linear gradations have been applied, the wax is removed by immersing the cloth in boiling water. Next all of the blue areas are covered with wax including the original white line of the very first waxing covering all of the gradations of the cloud motif leaving the areas in between, the background, exposed to the next dye bath. Then cloth is then immersed in a dye bath of red to color the background. The final step is to remove the wax by immersing the cloth one last time in boiling water. With this step the batik is finished. It is an extremely labor intensive process to produce this effect. I had not seen a nine gradation mega mendung until recently, in Ibu Ninik’s gallery in Trusmi, Cirebon. It is incredibly beautiful.
I assisted Rudolph Smend from Cologne, Germany again February 10,12, and 13th at Fort Mason in San Francisco with his booth at the annual Tribal Art and textile Show, installing another collection of extraordinary batik kain panjang, sarongs, kemben, and iket. Click on the images below to see more.
Detail of kain panjang with very skillfully crafted issen-issen (filler motif) that augments the floral and bird motifs with an amazing sense of rhythmic movement.
Detail of tumpal
Full view of kain panjang. Note the curved wave-like band on the bottom border and the two different tumpal at each end, for alternative wearing choices.
I have the wonderful opportunity to assist Rudloph Smend in presenting a beautiful collection of museum quality batik sarongs and kain panjang in the San Francisco Arts of Pacific Asia Exhibition. He is a very gracious and knowledgeable man who is as passionate as I am about batik. He has been collecting for 38 yerars. Here are a few examples from the pieces in the show:
This is a detail from a lovely girls sarong circa 1920.
Detail from the kepala of a sarong circa 1940.
Click on image to see more images of Gallerie Smend collection at the San Francsico Pacific Asia Arts