From the beginning: A junior high school student learns to paint a batik motif on a piece of cloth at her school in Ciamis, West Java. Retno K. Djojo
When Unesco recently recognized batik as Indonesia’s unique cultural heritage, many across the archipelago realized something had to be done to preserve and nurture the art, skill and knowledge of batik making.
As a result, several educational institutions, including in Surakarta and Cirebon, announced they would include batik making in the school’s curriculum starting from 2010.
But students at SMP Negeri 1 Ciamis are already a step ahead in preserving this ancient art as their school implemented such a program back in 2008.
Twice a week, students take classes in batik drawing. Dedi, who spoke for the teaching staff there, said, “The school management has initiated efforts for the revival of batik making after it was found the art was disappearing fast from the public sphere.”
Officials at the Textile Museum in Jakarta (Marjono and Bayu) also confirmed there was no known cottage industry for batik making in Ciamis, because of the lack of public support and financing. The distinctive designs of Ciamis batik are therefore at risk of disappearing or being claimed by other parties, unless concrete action is taken.
The batik-making classes Ciamis students attend aim to stimulate their appreciation for the local heritage.
Local administrations have also organized exhibitions where students can display their batik products such as shawls, table cloths, and handkerchiefs, all with batik motifs.
“Because the public has shown its appreciation for their work in the past, students have been encouraged to hone in on their drawing, waxing and dyeing skills. It has also stimulated them to come up with batik designs unique to Ciamis,” Dedi added.
Melasari, a ninth grader and batik enthusiast, said the original Ciamis batik motifs included the gecko and a mask design known as “Bebegig Sukamantri,” inspired by an old folklore tale.
It is believed the mask used to be worn in ceremonies to ward off evil spirits. The two motifs also show that batik makers draw much of their inspiration from nature.
Batik enthusiasts also use legends to develop contemporary motifs. Melasari, who faithfully attends her batik-making classes, said her classmates were all eager to use the batik-making technique to express themselves.
Under the guidance of their teacher, students learn how to draw batik motifs on paper and use these models to make pencil drawings on cloth.
“Students have taken a keen interest in the art of batik and it gives us satisfaction to see the results of their hard work,” she said.
The exhibitions have drawn the attention of students from other schools who have also shown interest in making batik.
The school plans to further develop batik classes, so students can produce batik motifs and batik for their school uniforms. Students would feel proud wearing their own batik creations inspired by traditional designs.
The first step to revive traditional motifs from Ciamis – currently already at the brink of extinction – is already underway.
Students and the teaching staff at SMP Negeri 1 Ciamis deserve full credit for their work.
Hopefully support from the public will also infuse new life into the batik industry and bring it to full bloom again .