Collective art: Suparti (right) uses canting (pen-like tool) to draw a special motif along with dozens of women at the Batik Kudus Galeri in Kudus, Central Java.
Using canting, a pen-like tool that applies liquid wax to cloth, Suparti draws a clove flower motif on a piece of white fabric. The piece is usually completed within a week and she will receive Rp 50,000 (US$5.3) for the payment.
“It’s only a side job since I have to take care of my family as well as help my husband with the farming,” the 46-year-old woman and mother of four said recently.
Every week, Suparti submits her creations to a batik businessperson to receive payment as well as materials, such as textiles and wax, for her next project.
However, Suparti’s work is only the initial stage in the long process to produce hand-made batik, which once completed, can be worth between Rp 2 million to Rp 10 million apiece. Following this drawing stage, the textile must then be colored, cleaned and dried before it is ready to be sold.
Natural addition: Two women color a piece of textiles using natural materials.
She revealed that this skill was inherited from her mother and grandmother but none of her children are interested in learning batik illustration. “Maybe because I do not get paid much for my batik drawing,” Suparti, who has one grandchild, said.
Suparti is one of dozens of women currently attending a training course at the Kudus Batik Gallery. The Gallery, managed by the Djarum Appresiasi Budaya Foundation in cooperation with two batik entrepreneurs, instructs the housewives on how to draw traditional Kudus batik motifs, such as the clove flower, Kudus Tower (the icon of the city), kapal kandas (stranded ship) and beras wutah (scattered rice).
“The motifs are almost extinct. Hopefully, we will preserve the motifs through this initiative,” Yuli Astuti, one of only two Kudus batik entrepreneurs, said.
Long process: Pencils are used to draw a batik motif pattern.
Yuli revealed that, due to a decrease in demand, the practice of Kudus batik motif illustration was extinct as there were no local entrepreneurs interested in promoting the traditional craft.
The 31-year-old woman, who studied fashion design, had to go to small hamlets around the city, meeting old women who still retain the skill and knowledge to draw this special batik ornamentation.
“I began to develop the Kudus batik in 2005. I rode motorcycles kilometers just to meet the old women and learnt from them,” Yuli said.
Printing it: A man imprints a batik motif onto a piece of fabric.
Yuli also visited Batik centers in cities and towns across Central Java, such as Surakarta and Magelang, which are famous for their products.
Slowly but surely, Kudus batik began to reemerge. Private companies, such as Djarum, support Yuli, through initiatives such as the establishment of galleries as well as exhibitions that support this traditional craft.
Chairwoman of the Indonesian Batik Foundation Miranti S. Ginanjar welcomed the support of private companies in the promotion and development of batik, a cultural legacy which was recognized by UNESCO in 2009 as “a masterpiece of oral and intangible heritage of humanity”.
De-waxed: A worker pulls out a piece of batik textile in a drum containing boiling water to cleanse it from the wax.
Miranti says batik development efforts should be conducted in line with the improvement of the artisans’ welfare. She admitted that the lengthy process of batik production, which requires several workers, is to blame for the low payment of batik craftspeople, even though the final product may be worth millions of rupiah. Nevertheless, she urges batik entrepreneurs to increase their workers’ salaries, including the housewives who draw the batik.
“The entrepreneurs should treat their batik craftspeople in a more humane manner,” she said, adding that the increase in awareness of the welfare of batik crafters would attract more people to take up the skill of batik writings.
Out of the sun: Various batik textiles are dried inside the workshop, protecting them directly from the sunshine.
Unique: Kudus batik has unique motifs such as clover flowers and animals, with bright colors similar to products from the coastal areas of Java.
— Photos JP/A. Junaidi