A blank canvas for creative expression – Exploring different types of Batik

Posted on 1 November, 2020

By Fahry Slatter – AIYA National Blog Editor

Versi Bahasa Indonesia, click here

In this great globalized world of ours, it has become increasingly difficult to find the few remaining elements that keep countries different from one another. We more or less have handphones made from the same company, we drive cars from the same 5 companies, and even some deeper cultural elements such as national anthems sound the same. 

One of the most fascinating is fashion. Indonesia has over 13,000-17,000 islands and so it can be very difficult to find an element that unites all the islands, especially because each Indonesian region has their own special uniform. However, one cultural element that all the islands can get behind is the Batik. Whether you’re Batak or Sundanese, or from Flores of Moluccas, all people from Indonesia can agree that Batik is Indonesian. Therefore, it has played a major role in part of Indonesia’s national identity. 

It has evolved to reach other areas besides fashion, from artistic interpretations to even a tool of diplomacy. 

What is Batik?

Contrary to popular belief, Batik is not actually a specific uniform, Batik is actually a style of painting/weaving, distinguished by its intricate emphasis on curves and homogenous pattern. But not all Batiks are born equal. The batik you find in parts of West Java is the most common one you’ll see and this is most likely the one that you’ve seen everywhere.

The main characteristic of Batik are the patterns produced from 30% beeswax and 70% paraffin, which allows the dye to seep through the fabric. Of course, there are preparatory works, such as preparing the actual cloth.

The approach to produce Batik is unique in itself. There are 4 ways that you can produce batik.

Technique

  1. Batik Blok

This is one of the earliest methods used to make Batik, simply because it could be done with any available tool at the time. A wooden block, carved with the desired pattern is dipped into wax and stamped onto the fabric to produce the pattern. The wooden blocks themselves are a work of art, as carving every intricate curve and edge takes a steady hand and staunch discipline.

  1. Batik Lukis

This is the real old fashioned way, using a bit of elbow grease, a meticulous eye for detail and love for the craft are the only secret ingredients. The paint is actually hot wax and is then painted using a special fine tipped pen called a tjanting. Legends say that this is the original way of making Batik

  1. Tie Dye Batik

Tie dye Batik can provide some of the most outlandish, abstract and irregular patterns. This is a popular way of teaching kids and beginners on how to make Batik by themselves.

  1. Screen Printing Batik

No, this does not involve putting your shirt in a printer and hoping it will come out with some crazy patterns you found on Google at the other end. Funnily enough, it follows the same principles, only with more manual work. Rather, this technique involves an organza screen, a layer of clean film and of course, wax. This process is time consuming, but the organza screen is soaked in emulsion and a focused light transfers the design onto the screen. The screen is then swiped back and forth to print the design onto the fabric.

In general, most Batiks in Indonesia are designed in a way that it highlights the uniqueness of the region that it came from and will usually have one or two unique elements of the region on the Batik.

Batiks all around Indonesia

Javanese Batik

Javanese Batik is mostly black and brown-centric, with an occasional dark blue thrown in. The dark hue of the black complements the brown. Note the little hints of gold, yellow and cream. The traditional colours of Javanese Batik are brown and black, however Indigo blue can also be used. This particular style of Batik is very fond of curves, with uniform distribution of the pattern. The patterns aren’t too abstract and are consistent with the choice of colours.

Batik Kalimantan

In contrast to Javanese Batik, batik from Kalimantan – Borneo, puts more emphasis on lots of straight lines and edges. This is heavily influenced by the Dayak tribe, where shields and uniforms of warriors have these patterns. Colour isn’t an issue as the artist can use any many colours as they want. Two, three, four and even five colours can be used, expressing Kalimantan’s diverse ethnic groups.  

Batik Bali

What is unique about Balinese Batik is the crackle in the background. One unique element about this style is that illustrations are used, as opposed to a repetition of patterns. The fabric used is very popular for sarongs and is Indonesia’s equivalent of Summer clothes, as the material is very thin and cool. The motif for Balinese batik is a strong emphasis on the cultural identity of Bali, such as temples, Garuda, Hanuman and other elements of Balinese culture. These are the identities that make Bali unique from the rest of Indonesia, and thus it is further emphasised through their unique style of fashion. If your batik has faces or animals, the artist most likely followed the Balinese style.

Batik Sulawesi

Unlike the previous two, Sulawesi does not play around with illustrations and straight edges. Sulawesi Batik is going back to its roots, with its simple, yet elegant design such as that of Toraja’s. The batik has emphasis on red and a circular design. Toraja is a small town situated in the mountainous region of mid-Sulawesi. Torajan batik is fairly more bold than its counterparts, as it is not afraid to show off reds and whites. The inspiration behind the pattern comes from the traditional style of wood carving that is popular in South Sulawesi. This style of Batik expresses the peaceful coastal life of South Sulawesi. In contrast, Northern Sulawesi.

Batik Ambon and Maluku

Batik from Indonesia’s east follows one similar style. These parts of Indonesia put emphasis on trees, nature and even more specific examples such as fruits. The reason? Maluku and the entirety of East Indonesia was renowned for its abundance of exotic spices, more so than other parts of Indonesia. In the 18th and 19th century, the Dutch, British and Portuguese was very fond of these islands and there was high demand for cinnamon, nutmeg, certain types of coffee beans and many more. Europeans fought for the trade route. Other unique patterns seen on eastern Indonesia’s batiks are physical objects, such as musical instruments or weapons. 

Batik – Indonesia’s gift to the world

It is clear to see that Batik is not an easy process to design. In 2009, UNESCO labelled Batik as an important piece of art and heritage. Also in 2009, former Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) formally declared Fridays to be the official “Batik Day” and it marked the beginning of a tradition. On Fridays, people in Indonesia are encouraged to wear Batik to work, schools, universities and any place that doesn’t follow strict safety clothing regulations. 

Scores of office workers pour out of buildings, displaying their most vibrant and lavish colours and styles. For some, Batik is a way to display one’s appreciation of an art form, for others, it is a patriotic symbol to remind people of Indonesia’s gift to the world.