Making of: Batik in Batik Tohal Workshop, Pekalongan, Indonesia
Words by Sharon Tsang-de Lyster, Photos by SukkhaCitta for Confluence20+
Indonesian batik is an ancient and alive craft. Batik, wax-resist dyeing of fabric, is an ancient art form. Its existent dated back to the 4th Century in Egypt, however, it is in the island of Java, Indonesia that batik has been most developed. In 2009, UNESCO designated Indonesian batik as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
With trades brought by explorers and colonists, the craft developed with the influences from various cultures, such as Chinese, European, Indian and Japanese, and religions, such as Hindu, Buddha and Islam. Endless identities and historical stories are told through different colors, textures and motifs of this fabled cloths.
The word 'batik' itself came from the word 'titik', which in Indonesian means a dot. It was said that during the olden days, Batik was created only for personal use and ceremonial purposes, demanding extreme delicacy and patience. The process itself involves hot wax that is applied with a 'tjanting' to the cloth to resist the dye.
Most hand-drawn Batik ('batik tulis') are made by women. They would sit together in a small circle, with a small steel pan where the wax is heated to keep it liquid. The wax itself is made using a combination of beeswax, pine wax and paraffin and the recipes differ from each workshop.
This particular design is inspired from the 'Buketan' motif that is iconic of Pekalongan. Eliza van Zuylen (1863 - 1947), a Batik artist from the Netherlands, first created the motifs inspired from European flower bouquets/arrangements. 'Buketan' motifs carry the history of European influence in the country.
Starting from the outline of the design, batik artists skillfully trace the motifs with melted wax using a 'tjanting', then cover areas where it needs to be undyed with more wax. Then, colours are hand painted to achieve gradient effects, before covering those parts with wax to avoid successive dyeing. The dyeing process allows a background colour to penetrate the whole piece of fabric. Finally, the piece is boiled to remove the wax, then dried.
Batik Tobal was created in 1971 by the Kadir family in Pekalongan. Driven by the passion to share Batik's beauty with the world, they created open aired spaces and sustainable water management - a rarity in the whole of Pekalongan.
Despite the growing popularity of Batik domestically, the local batik workshops including Batik Tobal have been having difficulties in evolving to cater to the modern international market. Unable to compete, almost 50% of the artisans lost employment.