10 Things You Should Know About: Batik

In the latest episode of our popular 10 Things You Should Know series, we share facts about batik, a fabric popular in Southeast Asia.

10 Things You Should Know is a series of short animated videos on aspects of Malay culture and heritage. In our latest video of the series, we share 10 facts on batik, an artform that entails hand-dyeing fabrics using a wax resist technique. This series of animated videos is produced in collaboration with Wisma Geylang Serai.

This video is also available on Youtube.

1. Batik is both a type of textile and a wax-resist technique used to create designs on textile. It is practised in countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Nigeria. 

2. The word batik is believed to have been derived from Javanese/Malay word “titik” which means “dot”.

3. There are different techniques used in batik. One of the oldest, Batik Tulis, uses a canting to draw intricate designs in hot wax before the fabric is dyed. The canting is a copper fountain pen-like tool filled with hot wax.

4. The wax is then removed with hot water, revealing patterns created by the contrast between the dyed and wax resistant parts. The process is repeated, producing rich layered effects in varying colours and shapes. 

5. In Batik Cap, a copper batik stamp imprints hot wax onto fabric. It is labour-intensive, skilled work, as batik makers must repeatedly align the previous stamping to achieve a seamless continuity. The Batik Cap was introduced to quicken the process of production and to lower costs, in response to the increased demand for Batik in the region and the world.

6. Batik designs are mostly inspired by nature, and may be geometric or free-form. The popular Kawung motif was traditionally reserved for royalty. The Kawung belongs to a group of designs known as Ceplok which consists of geometric and abstract patterns of plants and flowers.

7. The parang is a dagger design arranged repetitively in slanted parallel. It is a design representing power and strength. The curved lines also resemble waves, depicting the close relationship between Javanese culture and nature.

8. Some motifs are shaped by external influences namely, the Mega Mendung, Buketan and Hokokai.

The Mega Mendung design is an iconic pattern from Cirebon, West Java. True to its name, which  refers to clouds, the motif consists of repetitive cloud-like patterns that are oval or triangular. It is believed that the origins of this design is attributed to the arrival of the Chinese to the Cirebon region. Products of Chinese culture were used in trade and exchange and had motifs of clouds on it. The exchanges and intermarriages of Cirebon natives with the Chinese fostered a design that is unique, reflecting the best of both cultures.

Buketan, or bouquet in Dutch, is a batik design that was created by Indo-European women during colonial Indonesia (East-Indies). These motifs were most integral in the production of a batik style known as the Batik Belanda or Dutch Batik. The floral motifs of this design reflected the types of flowers and the flower arrangement conventions of the day. Aside from just floral patterns, the motifs also included decorative figures such as birds, butterflies, peacocks and swans.

The Hokokai design was conceived as a result of the Japanese occupation of Indonesia from 1942-45 and, the name was derived from an organisation based in Java. The designs and colours are Japanese-inspired, such as butterflies and sakura flowers.

9. Batik is used in garments, as well as for ceremonial purposes, including to commemorate a woman’s first pregnancy, and when an infant touches the earth for the first time. In fact, certain batik designs are believed to ward off evil or even to give the wearer strength and authority.

10. Batik is a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, and is still widely used in the region. It is an ancient art form that has been remodelled into the latest fashion trends, worn by fashion influencers, politicians, and national carriers.

References:

[1] “Batik: Fabled Cloth of Java”(2004) by Inger McCabe Elliot

https://nlb.overdrive.com/media/1072981

[2] “The Cultural Hybrid in Colonial Java & Perkalongan Buketan (Bouquet) Batik” by Karina Rima Melati
https://www.thejugaadproject.pub/home/the-cultural-hybrid-in-colonial-java-and-pekalongan-buketan-bouquet-batik

[3] “The History of Batik” by The Batik Guild
https://www.batikguild.org.uk/batik/history

[4] “The History of Batik & Its Use in Modern Times” by Moyena Parikh (June 9, 2022)
https://www.prestigeonline.com/my/pursuits/art-culture/the-history-of-batik-and-its-use-in-modern-times/

[5] “Malaysian Batik: Reinventing a Tradition” (2012) by Noor Azlina Yunus

https://nlb.overdrive.com/media/6B804D19-C8BA-4457-AED1-45239039C0F2

[6] “Batik, The Traditional Fabric of Indonesia” by Living in Indonesia

https://www.expat.or.id/info/batik.html

[7] “Batik as Identity: A Travelled Cloth, A Storied Fabric and A Love Letter to the Nation” by Azrin Tan (August 6, 2022)

https://vogue.sg/batik-love-letter-singapore/

[8] “The Story of Modern-day Singapore, Told Through Batik” by SilverKris

https://www.silverkris.com/inspiration/the-story-of-modern-day-singapore-told-through-batik/ 

10 Things You Should Know is the first of a series of videos on Malay culture and heritage, created by ArtsEquator and commissioned by Wisma Geylang Serai. It is a continuation of an earlier series by ArtsEquator, featuring batik, gamelan, Malay dance and others, which you can check out here.
The videos in this series are sponsored by Wisma Geylang Serai. The money earned from paid advertising goes towards covering ArtsEquator’s running costs and paying our writers and content creators. We have a strict policy regarding which content which can and cannot be sponsored. To read more about our editorial policy, please go here.

About the author(s)

Muhd Noramin Mohd Farid (Soultari) is a choreographer, arts educator and researcher from Singapore. He received his Doctorate in Theatre and Dance studies (2021) from Royal Holloway, University of London, UK. He is a recipient of the ASEAN-India Youth Award (2018), Singapore Youth Award (2017), National Arts Council Scholarship (2017) and Goh Chok Tong Mendaki Youth Promise Award (2016). Amin is the Joint-Artistic Director of Bhumi Collective, a multidisciplinary performing art and producing company. He writes occasionally for Arts Equator, Straits Times and the Esplanade Theatres by the Bay.

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