Batik Day: Tracing Indonesia's very own living art
Sondang Grace Sirait
The Jakarta Post
Today, batik, the iconic fabric, continues to attract more fans from around the world.
So it goes, celebrities Lady Gaga and Kim Kardashian are both fans of Indonesian-born designer Tex Saverio. But when it comes to contributing to world fashion, Indonesia definitely has a lot more to offer. Fashion bloggers are now paying more attention to another Indonesian icon that has graced the looks of fashion-conscious Hollywood celebrities such as Jessica Alba, Paris Hilton and Reese Witherspoon. All three, and more, have been spotted wearing batik.
Since UNESCO's designation of Indonesian batik as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in October 2009, batik has grown in popularity at home and abroad, and for good reason. Although similar techniques of manual wax-resistant dyeing are also found in other countries from China to Nigeria, Indonesian batik has proven to be the most visibly recognized. This living art, as dubbed by UNESCO, makes both local tradition and national pride rich with symbolic meanings through its colors and designs.
Today the iconic fabric continues to attract more fans from around the world. The UK-based Batik Guild, for example, boasts around 200 members in Britain and Ireland, all of whom are passionate about making batik. The organization's regular events include batik workshops and exhibitions in art galleries.
'There is nowhere in the world where the art of batik has been developed to the highest standards as in the island of Java in Indonesia,' praises the guild on its website, which also notes that the word batik comes from the Javanese word tik, which means to dot.
In Java itself, batik is differentiated between inland and coastal types, both with varying colors and patterns as inspired by different influences. Typical inland batiks are commonly crafted in Solo and Yogyakarta, two cities deemed Javanese cultural hubs. Meanwhile, coastal batiks tend to be more expressive in both color and patterns, thanks to an immersion in maritime culture.
Although most prominent in Java, other areas in Indonesia are also home to different interpretations of the fabric, as seen in Sumatra and Bali. Another well-known type of batik hails from West Java, which stands out for its use of vibrant colors and symbols of Arabic influence.
Indonesia's multi-faceted batik designs, says Inger McCabe Elliot in the book Batik: The Fabled Cloth of Java, 'can be traced to its country's volatile neighbors as well as its own chaotic history. Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and colonial cultures all contributed to the cacophony of form and color.'
In many ways, batik is both embraced and revered for its spiritual allure. 'Batik was a vehicle for mediation, a process which gave birth to an uncommonly elevated sublimity in man,' wrote the twentieth-century classicist KRT Hardjonagoro, as quoted in Elliot's book. 'People batiked for family and ceremonial purposes, in devotion to God Almighty, in each man's endeavor to know God and draw near his spirit.'
As batik immerses with life in the fast-paced 21st century, its charms remain intact. In the hands of innovative diplomats, it has turned into an effective tool for conveying messages and bringing people together.
'The 21st century will be an era of confluence and fusion between cultures. This is a perfect time for the rich heritage of Indonesian batik to meet American contemporary designs,' says former Indonesian ambassador to the United States Dino Patti Djalal, who initiated the American Batik Design Competition in 2011, as quoted on americanbatik.embassyofindonesia.org.
Over in St. Petersburg, Russia, late last month, former Miss Batik Mia Ismi Halida charmed an audience of government officials, businesspeople and students there with a musical performance, clad in batik. Halida, who was part of the visiting Indonesian delegation to Russia and Belarus, told the national news agency ANTARA, 'The warm applause I received reflects the success of the Indonesian diplomacy with regard to arts and culture.'
With such a hearty welcome abroad and adoring pride at home, wearing batik as Indonesia's national identity only gets more delightful. This national batik day, pick a batik outfit and tell the world about it. (Sondang Grace Sirait)
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