June 11, 2021

Sarong on Screen

Yesterday the short dancefilm 'Sarung' of Garin Nugroho premiered and I just had to share it here, together with some other on screen sarong appreciations I spotted these last months online. For more Batik online, please check out my previous blogpost Taking Batik Online.

I have been a big fan of Garin Nugroho's work for a while. His 'Opera Jawa' inspired me to make 'Dance in a ricecapet' (together with the films by Tony Gatlif). Last year, due to Covid, his film 'Memories of My Body' was screened online and I was happy I could enjoy this inspiring, moving film from my own couch. It is not always easy to see Garin Nugroho's work, and when I read the Esplanade festival commissioned a film by him and it would be screened online, I marked my agenda.
The film 'SARUNG' will be online till 27 of June, so don't wait to watch!

Sarung by Garin Nugroho

The humble sarung plays an important part in daily life, used not only as clothing but also to put children to sleep and to wrap and carry food. Sarung follows a dancer who is inspired by this versatile piece of cloth and begins creating new choreography. In the process, she is reminded of her mother whom she has not seen in a long time, spurring her to make the journey home. Sombre yet moving, this film reflects on the notions of home and familial bonds.

Raya and the Last Dragon

I think I got overly excited when I spotted Batik making in the trailer of Disney's latest movie 'Raya and the Last Dragon'. I had to see it of course. The snapshot from the trailer is as as long as Batik is featured in the actual film, but still. The Batik is showed lovely & wrong..It is a fantasy story piling up of Southeast Asian culture, so I guess they can take a little leap with it. The Batik is made with a very big canting and the end result is somehow Thai silk...Never the less, I really enjoyed the visuals of the film and the story. The clothing and jewellery everyone wears is gorgeous and it is fun to see where inspiration is taken from. 

 Swara Gembira Youtube & Instagram

Thanks to Ky Kale (check out his youtube channel, it is great!) I have been enjoying the video of Swara Gembira. Great to listen to Bahasa Indonesian and some slang while famous people (mostly influencers and local celebs) get wrapped in traditional Indonesian textiles. 
The concept is simple, yet very effective. The celebs bring their own clothing, upper part, and they get styled with kains from all over Indonesia. The channel shows that dressing traditional can be actually cooler than dressing in jeans (pun intended ;)) 
I really enjoy the videos and dreaming of being on the show one day, meanwhile I enjoy it from home and try out their sarong-styling ways.

Go check out the sarongs on screen and do put sarong watch tips in the comments!

May 3, 2021

What to do with the Nutmeg batiks?

Nutmeg batik, TM-1585-4, next to TM-1585-3 
in the depot of the Tropenmuseum, 
both Collection NMvW

“What to do with the Nutmeg batiks?” has marked my agenda a couple of months now. This year we commemorate that is was 400 years ago,  to be precise on 6 May 1621 the genocide on the Banda islands occurred and on 8 May the massacre of the imprisoned Orang Kaya. JP Coen who led the “punishment expedition” has been questioned on his actions ever since and still we are discussion whether his statue and streetnames named after him should be removed from our public space (the answer is Yes! And #wegmetJPCoen).


Nutmeg batik, TM-1585-4
Collection NMvW

Nutmeg is not commonly used as a motif in textiles. Not in Batik, but also not in the earlier populair Chintz. 
Chintz are block printed cotton fabrics from India that were often ordered by European with motifs fitting the European market in the 17th & 18th century . I remember standing in the V&A in London in 2014 in-front of a display and realising all the chintz had Papaver/Poppies on it. Opium is created from Papaver and formed an important product for the East India Company, the British VOC {our VOC also “dealed” in opium, a lot!}. 
So it would be logical that other trading goods would make in onto cloths as a motif, especially cloths that are catering the wishes of the foreigners. 
With spices this seemed not to be the case. Batik design started to changed half way through the 19the century. Batiks ordered by Europeans for the colonial exhibitions are often decorated with Zoo-animals, animals exotic for Java, cupids, as in fat angels, and a lot of wayang figures, which were before that time not common on Batik. 
From all Batiks that survived I, till now, only found two with a Nutmeg motif on it. One that is seen as The Von Franquemont since half way the 20th century and one made as a goodbye-gift for the gouverneur-generaal of the Dutch East Indies from 1875 till 1881, Johan Wilhelm van Lansberge. This batik was later also, wrongly, attributed to Von Franquemont.

Detail of Nutmeg batik, TM-1585-4

“De Nootmuskaat batik” as it is know in the Netherlands, The Nutmeg Batik, is part of a donation of no less than 196 objects. A large part consists of textiles of which a number of Batiks. Believed is they were worn by Adolphine Leonardina Wardenaar (1884-1942) the wife of P.H.Q.Bouman who made the donation in 1942. All batiks seem to be from a similar time, around 1900’s, but the Nutmeg got attributed to Von Franquemont in 1965 and is since then dated ‘1840-1867’. There is no additional provenance for this, but when it got published in a book in 1979 together with the spectacular, wrong, story about Von Franquemont’s passing, it has been shown/used as the example of what a Von Franquemont Batik looks like.

Page from the book 'Splendid Symbols. Textiles and Tradition in Indonesia' 

by M. Gittinger from 1979

Nutmeg Wax Print

I even found a copy of the famous Nutmeg Batik at the Vlisco archive. It is a very rough one-on-one copy, presumedly made for an exhibition to be sold in the giftshop, but never put in production. This Nutmeg wax print was donated in 1979, so was made before that date. 

Nutmeg wax print from the Vlisco Archive

Detail of Nutmeg wax print from the Vlisco Archive


in the depot of the Tropenmuseum, 
both Collection NMvW

The second batik that has a nutmeg motif on is a piece donated by J.W. van Lansberge to the Koloniaal Museum in 1881. The batik is made on an unusual material, pine-apple fibre, also known as ‘rameh’, which was a very populair material on colonial exhibitions, but not really common in every day use on Java it seems. It now being used again to create Batik on! The large cloth, 1,5 x 2,5 meter almost, is designed as a Batik with a kepala, head, and Badan, body. In the kepala  the letter ‘L’ or ‘J’ and in in the badan between flowers, cupids on top of an H and an L, a mythical swan with a crown and nutmegs. 

Detail of TM-H-91 with the crowned swan, the nutmeg and a part of the 'booh'

The nutmeg on TM-H-91

Nutmeg as a motif

For me it seemed odd there was nutmeg as a motif on these pieces and that it was almost proudly seen as the ultimate display of ‘European influence’ on Batik. “What to do with the Nutmeg batiks?” and their unclear attributions to Von Franquemont. 
I first wanted to learn more about the history of Nutmeg, before making any further statements on these pieces. 
I joined  the opening event of the online exhibition ‘From Cartography to Cookbooks: A web of Dutch Colonialism’ in January and there I saw speaker Dr. Joëlla van Donkersgoed wearing a blouse with a Nutmeg motif. She shared about her research on the Banda islands and her upcoming online ‘Banda 1621-2021 International roundtable series’. I contacted her afterwards about her shirt and the Batiks with nutmeg. She explained the fabric was sold in the Moluccas. The fabric was gifted to her and she let it made into a shirt. I later spotted the same fabric in photos of the making of the upcoming online exhibition ‘Pala – Nutmeg tales of Banda', used as a table cloth. Again this fabric was bought in the Moluccas.

Screenshot I shared in my insta story

Joëlla send me a link to wear the fabrics were sold online. 
This is from The Ambon Manise Shop

Print sold by The Ambon Manise Shop

Prints sold by The Ambon Manise Shop

I attended the online 'Banda 1621-2021 International roundtable' and was inspired to learn more about how the history of the Banda islands was re-told, commemorated, how they used rituals and dances to heal from what occurred and strengthen their connection to their ancestors. If you haven't watched yet, you can watch it back on  you can watch them back on Youtube.

It seems the Nutmeg as a motif have been (re)claimed. However the Nutmeg motifs on the old Batiks seem to be made in a different light. 
The Nutmeg Batik, TM-1585-4 is scheduled to be show in the upcoming exhibition 'De Erfenis', The inheritance, at the Tropenmuseum. I hope before it is put on display again a closer look will be taken at the provenance of this piece....

There is much to watch back, read and upcoming. 
Please check the different programs this week as mentioned above, but also:

Exhibition ‘I love Banda’ by photographer Isabelle Boon, with an online opening on 6 May and a podcast series in collaboration with Beyond Walls

Book in Dutch, recently published, ‘Banda – De genocide van Jan Pieterszoon Coen’ 

Book in Bahasa Indonesia, Rumah di Tanah Rempah - Penjelajahan Memaknai Rasa dan Aroma Indonesia by Nurdiansyah Dalidjo {also of Kain Kita}. More info on the book also in this video

Article 'The Hidden History of the Nutmeg Island That Was Traded for Manhattan'

* All photos are taken by me, otherwise it is credited!

- Feel free to drop must watch/reads in the comments below -

April 30, 2021

Storytelling concertfilm project 'Shishani & Sisterhood'

How stories can return to you and find a new stage, a way to be re-told that you could have never imagined. That happened to me with the amazing storytelling concertfilm project 'Shishani & Sisterhood'.

I think I met Shishani the first time during an event in Den Haag, I saw her perform a couple of times after that and was every time moved by how she takes an audience with her on a journey. She sings in multiple languages, most unknown to me, yet I fully understood the emotion and point she wants to put across. 
Shishani was invited to perform at Erasmushuis in Jakarta (ID), but because of the pandemic it was decided to broadcast it instead. 
She wanted to dive into the complex and confronting shared history between Indonesia and the Netherlands to create this show and to collaborate with musicians and artists based in the Netherlands that have a connection to Indonesia  When she asked me if I would like to join this project and share Batik I was like, Yes!, but also wondered if I should be part of it. I do not take this shared history lightly, so I shared my thoughts on this also with Shishani. To share about Batik in this project is such a great opportunity, not just for me, also for the Batikmakers I want to give a stage to and the many stories that are in need of re-telling. So yes I was very happy to join.
The plan originally was to use the Batiks as a kind of set-design backdrop. But because Batik is surely not a representation of the whole of Indonesia, we figured the Batiks should just be a segment in the program. We had a rehearsal a week before the recording in the amazing Gamelanhuis in Amsterdam. It was great to be in a room surrounded by a full Javanese and full Balinese Gamelan. It was the first time we (almost) all met, spoken word artist Tieka Masfar, musician Wulan Dumatubun, dancer Asih Sungkono and bass player Jaimie van Hek. Being surrounded by musicians, a poet and a dancer brought back many memories of when we were creating 'Dance in ricecarpet', already 10 years ago.

Rehearsal at Het Gamelanhuis in Amsterdam
As a collaborative inspiration Shishani choose Raden Adjeng Kartini & Dewi Srikandi. When she told me, I was like, that is so great, because both have a strong connection to Batik. Raden Adjeng Kartini as a promotor and maker of Batik and Srikandi the name of Ibu Ramini's batikworkshop in desa Jeruk. During the rehearsal I laid out the Batiks to display them to the others. I told a little about me and what story I would like to share. I used the blogpost I wrote on Kartini from 2015. I thought it would be nice if her role in Batik history, also in providing knowledge about it in the Netherlands, could be share in this project and in the Tropenmuseum, our stage for the show. 
The laid out Batiks turned out to create a nice stage for dancer Asih to preform on. Shishani suggested she might use movements from 'Tari Batik'. Everything came together in that moment. 
So now I had to tell my story while laying out the Batik. I wrote my text, practiced saying it together together with folding open 9 Batiks, each Batik representing one of the performers, over and over again the week before the recording.
I also went to Amsterdam to pick up an outfit. A Guave suit made with Batik Tulis from Lasem (ID) and an old pink/coral woven fabric from Enschede (NL). I had the suit reserved already a year ago, thinking I would have plenty of opportunities to wear it in 2020... But nevertheless this was the perfect moment!

Dancer Asih on the Batiks

Dancer Asih during rehearsal showing the warrior dance

Quick shot between takes of the show at Tropenmuseum

On Sunday 11 April 2021 we had our recording day at the Tropenmuseum. Being in a museum after not being able to visit museums after so long is surreal and awesome. Of course I was here before to visit the depot, but I haven't been inside of the museumpart of the building since I think the opening of the Bali exhibition in Februari of 2020.
In the 'Lichthal' the main big hall of the museum hangs the temporary artwork 'Moon' by artist Luke Jerram. Part of the exhibition 'Healing power' and a perfect centrepiece for our performance.
We had only a short amount of time, which included the run-through, set-up of technique and building off again on time. Al was filmed by Beyond Walls and recorded by Waargebeurd.music. Running behind schedule, I had only two takes, with my heart bounding I manage to remember my words, trying not to make to much noise (the first take my sound was not good because my earring hit my mic) and try to act like I do this every day, hehe. 
Being in this space, this colonial space, and hearing the music, the words, seeing the movements of the dance was so, so powerful. The sound of the tifa of Tiga Batang Rumah echoing through the huge space. Shishani's voice sometimes not more than a whisper still carrying all the weight of the words. It was intense and moving, it was needed and felt it was healing this space in a way. 
I am so happy Batik is part of this Storytelling Concertfilm. Kita bersama!
Ayo, go watch the show, enjoy!

Some stills from the film

Me laying out the Batiks

Dancer Asih performing her version of 'Tari Batik'

April 21, 2021

Batik Statement Blogs Birthday 2021

A Batik Statement for this years birthday of my blog 'The journey to Batik' had to be an online meeting!

21th of April 2009 marks the starting date of my blog, first started in Dutch, so it become the long website link www.dereisnaarbatik.blogspot.com

This 21th of April I celebrate 12 years of blogging on my blog and 12 years of my journey to Batik. My blog is now on the more easy link www.journeytobatik.org

I want to thank everyone who has been following my journey! Thank you for your support, guidance and appreciation through out these years. The last year was tough, for everyone and also for Batik. Batikmakers have it extra hard during this pandemic. Batiks mostly get bought for special events like weddings and through tourism, which came to a full stop last year and haven't improved since. 

So on my blogs birthday and on Kartini day, all my warm wishes to all that make, support and buy Batik. 

To many more years of continuing my journey to Batik :)! 

Selamat Hari Kartini!

For more Blog Birthday posts check out my previous post 11 tahun perjalanan ke Batik

March 26, 2021

Batik Stand Online - The Online Batik Stand

Last year we started 2020 with the full hope we would make a bigger, even better, Batik Stand at the Tong Tong Fair in May. The closer we got to May, the more we realised the event couldn't take place.
We, me and Romée Mulder and Myrthe Groot of Guave, decided to make an online intermezzo of our Batik Stand. We did a little experiment with Easter, painting Easter eggs in Batik style, experimenting with how to record videocalls and how to share them. Things developed quickly after that. The ways of how to record & share changed so much during this pandemic. We have IG tv, Instagram Live, live streams on Youtube & Facebook, Zoom, Teams, Skype, Whatsapp, and so forth. You can be add home all day and travel the world basically. Most of these options existed before Covid, but we really made the step that an online connection can be a real connection. Of course, in person is better, but isn't it great we can meet with someone in Singapore, Indonesia, USA, you name it, all on the same day, even at the same moment. And for me personally what was a huge plus is that I finally dared to ask people to share their amazing Batik stories on camera.
For the Batik Stand we asked three guests to share their Batiks in an online Batik Consultation. We shared them last year on Instagram as IG tv videos and made also a program in our stories. 
To make the videos accessible for a wider audience, I now put them all on Youtube. They include Dutch & English subtitles and some updated footage. 
Go check them out! Enjoy!

Digital consultation with nobody less than Dido Michielsen, author of the book 'Lichter dan ik'. In this episode we discuss different themes from the book, zoom in on the Batik and take a look at Dido's own Batik collection.

Dido Michielsen shows us the suitcase she keeps her Batiks in when we visited her in Augustus 2020

In this second Batik Consultation we talk with Rachel de Vries who we met in 2019 at the Tong Tong Fair when she visited our Batik Stand and showed us two amazing Batiks. Both Batiks have an interesting place in the history of the Dutch East Indies and Indonesia.

Some books used to identify the Batiks shown during the online consultations

In this Digital Batik Consultation we talk with Cindy Smits about two special Batiks from her grandmother. What can these Batiks tells us?

Cindy Smits grandfather and grandmother, Oma Roemsah with the Batik she wears on the photo

For even more Batik Stand see:

& My blogpost 'The Ba­tik Stand, A Stand for Ba­tik' on Modemuze

March 5, 2021

Fangirling over Oey Soe Tjoen


Recently published books on Oey Soe Tjoen, 
'Oey Soe Tjoen - Duta Batik Peranakan' by Pak William Kwan Hwie Liong 
and the special edition of 'Oey Soe Tjoen - Merajut Asa Dalam Sejuta Impian' 
that came in the black box with red bow
On a Batik tulis by KUB Srikandi in the style of Oey Soe Tjoen

High on my wish-list of must-visit and must buy is Batikworkshop Oey Soe Tjoen. In the realm of Batik this is a very well-known name. It is one of the few Batikworkshops that is strongly connected to colonial history and still produces high quality high demand Batiks today.

I was planning to write on this for a while. I got two books in beginning of December and I was like, I will write when I have time to sit down and read them. Because I have a lot of reading and data processing going on for my researchproject next to starting up 4 collaboration projects, I did not manage to do more than flipping through the books. So today I though, I will just start this post and make this shout out to the third generation successor of Oey Soe Tjoen, Widianti Widjaja, nickname Kiem Lian. 

A few books from my collection which mention Oey Soe Tjoen, 
'Batik Design ' by Pepin Roojen, 'Batik Creating an Identity' by Lee Chor Lin, 
'Batik Belanda 1840-1940 - Dutch influence in Batik from Java, History and Stories' by H.C. Veldhuisen and 'De Batikkerij Van Zuylen' te Pekalongan

First a little more about Oey Soe Tjoen, Buketan & books. The first book I bought on Batik, 'Batik Creating an Identity' by Lee Chor Lin, included beautiful pieces by Oey Soe Tjoen and every book I bought after that. Even the books that were more focussed on Indo-European influence on Batik like 'Batik Belanda' by Veldhuisen and 'Fabric of Enchantment'. This has in a large part to do with the use of the 'Buketan' motif, the bouquet of (wild) flowers, on many of the Oey Soe Tjoen Batiks. The Oey Soe Tjoen family have always been working with Batik. At the end of the 19th century it starts with Oey Khing Tik and his wife, Siauw Tik Nio, as the first generation. The couple worked as batik traders. They did not make their own batik, but purchased Batik Kain and sarongs directly from pembatiks living in the Kedungwuni region, and re-sold them. Eventually they started producing their own batiks; Tulis, Cap and Kombinasi (Combination of Tulis and Cap). Their son Oey Soe Tjoen followed in their footsteps. Oey Soe Tjoen began to learn the business at a young age by helping his parents. He married in 1925 with Kwee Tjoen Giok Nio (more often called Kwee Nettie). Kwee Tjoen Giok Nio parents sold natural dye materials. In the beginning Oey Soe Tjoen would have used natural dyes, but their batiks are far better known for their bright colours in synthetic dyes.***

Oey Soe Tjoen started making imitations of the very popular motif ‘Buketan’, bouquet, after the designs of Indo-European Batik entrepreneurs Eliza van Zuylen (1863-1947). From the beginning of the 20th century until today the Buketan motif is very populair on Batiks from Pekalongan (ID). The tradition was starting, according to Dutch scholars, by Eliza van Zuylen, nickname Lies, and her sister Christina van Zuylen, nickname Tina. Tina's husband had a shop from which he sold school supplies, while his wife Tina sold floral arrangements aka bouquets. At some point they added Batik to their items to sell and when this went well Lien Metzelaar, another famous Batik entrepreneur, 'lent' Tina three Batikmakers. Elisa van Zuylen at some point also got three Batikmakers and around 1900's made a workshop at the Heerenstraat.* Eliza van Zuylen, or Tina, might have been the inventors of the Buketan motif, it was the Peranakan-Chinese Batik entrepreneurs in the same region who brought it to another level, and Oey Soe Tjoen was one of them. He added his own effect to the design creating a kind of shade in the flowers leaves. A story goes that Van Zuylen tried to create this effect herself but couldn’t.*** Emphasised in this juicy quote from 'Fabric of Enchantment': "While Oey started by imitating Lies van Zuylen's bouquets, he is the one who created a unique three-dimensional effect, which was perfectly copied by other Peranakan entrepreneurs {...}Van Zuylen herself tried to imitate the effect after 1935 for a Peranakan customer but did not succeed".*

After Oey Soe Tjoen died in 1976, his son, Muljadi Widjaja, and daughter-in-law, Istianti Setiono, ran the shop with his widow Kwee, still signing the batiks with Oey’s name. Kwee passed away in 1996, leaving the business to the second generation to run it further.
Muljadi Widjaja and Istianti Setiono had three children. Their daughter Widianti Widjaja was born on November 23, 1976, and was taught the dyeing techniques by her father. Muljadi Widjaja passed away in 2002 and the family business was carried on by his widow Istianti Setiono. 
Today the batikworkshop is run by their daughter Widianti Widjaja and she continued producing the classic Batiks in the legacy of her parents and grandparents. She experiments with developing new designs, but always including the aesthetic elements that had become the trademark of Oey Soe Tjoen Batik.***

Pagi-Sore Batik by Oey Soe Tjoen in the exhibition 'Kruispunt Rotterdam' in Wereldmuseum

With going to the Oey Soe Tjoen workshop on my wish-list and returning to Java being somewhere in the future, I got very excited when the news came a book on Oey Soe Tjoen would be published, again. The first book that was written on this Batikworkshop was by no other than my Batik-mentor Pak William Kwan. It was only published only limited edition and sold out before I knew it was out. Luckily last year the book got re-published and also a new book was made. I could swap the two Oey Soe Tjoen books with two Dutch published books on Batik. I managed to get the special edition and when I opened it, I literally screamed of joy! The book includes a small Batik by Oey Soe Tjoen! So although I couldn't visit and shop at the workshop, I did get one! I am still over the moon with it!

I mentioned Widianti Widjaja, the current boss of Oey Soe Tjoen, also in my recent previous post 'Taking Batik Online' and she truly is part of the current online development we see in Batik. Next to being a guest in all kinds of Zooms and IG lives, she uses her own social media to post pictures and video of the making process. Which is an amazing thing. The quality of her work is very high. She has Batikmakers, but she makes Batik herself and does the entire dye-process. Very similar to Ibu Ramini of Batikworkshop KUB Srikandi. They are not bosses, they are Batik! And it is amazing to get in invite in this process through the internet. And not by someone who visits, but by Widianti herself! So go check it out on www.instagram.com/widianti_lian/

At the moment in the Wereldmuseum in Rotterdam one amazing piece from the Oey Soe Tjoen workshop is on display in the new semi-permanent exhibition 'Kruispunt Rotterdam'. It opened in September 2020, but the museum has hardly been open. Although the textiles on display will be changed, I hope we still can see the current picked pieces. The Batik by Oey Soe Tjoen was bought, or ordered to be precise, by the former textile conservator of the Wereldmuseum during a travel & collect journey she made on Java in 1968. Because I was involved in the selection process of the Indonesian textile pieces for this exhibition, I got to see this Batik up-close and it still has the price label on it! It is displayed with this to the wall, which is for me odd, because often signed/tagged/stamped pieces by Indo-European Batik entrepreneurs, as mentioned before, would have been displayed with their signature in full sight... So I share the pictures I took in the depot of the signature, labels and stamps here below:

Stamp & signature on Pagi-Sore Batik currently on display at Wereldmuseum

Original sticker and label with the price it was bought for in 1968

With Batik history how it is shared in the Netherlands, it is interesting how a Batikworkshop as huge and important as Oey Soe Tjoen mainly gets mentioned in comparison, however the Oey Soe Tjoen legacy still exists and flourish today! And I am so happy it is being celebrated, with books, exhibitions and online!

To enjoy more Widianti Widjaja, check out the IG interview aNERDspective 30 by aNERDgallery. On the website of aNERDgallery you find the full interview written out in English

And on IG Live with Widianti Widjaja on Lawasan Batik

And on Youtube in the recent webinar 'Batik: Warisan Budaya Peranakan - Nggosipin Tionghoa Yuk! Pertemuan Keduapuluhsembilan' 

or here in an interview done by Weltmuseum, 'Jani Kuhnt-Saptodewo in an interview with Descendants of Oey Soe Tjoen'

To enjoy more Oey Soe Tjoen, buy the books, also through aNERDgallery, or look at the pieces in the NMvW collection

or in the online exhibition 'Singapore, Sarong Kebaya and Style: Peranakan Fashion - Discover the style of the Peranakan – a hybrid of interactions between people from Asia and Europe' on Google Arts & Culture

To read more about the Buketan motif, check out my previous post 'Pattern Edition Batik Statement: Buketan'

* From 'Fabric of Enchantment' and 'De batikkerij Van Zuylen'

** Blogpost title 'Fangirling over'; a girl or woman who is an extremely or overly enthusiastic fan of someone or something. fangirl. verb. fangirled; fangirling; fangirls.

*** Information from Pak William Kwan as mentioned in his book Oey Soe Tjoen - Duta Batik Peranakan

February 8, 2021

How a red flood in Pekalongan reveals many issues, but blames Batik

While Europe was getting ready for a snowstorm, news came in from Indonesia that the streets in Pekalongan were flooded with red coloured water. The first images appeared online on Twitter with messages about 'the end of days'. After warnings about this 'Fake news', different news platforms started to share the story under titles like 'Indonesian village turns red as floods hit batik-manufacturing hub', 'Felrode overstroming bij Indonesisch dorp met batik-fabriek' and 'A surreal blood red river inundated the Indonesian village of Jenggot after floods hit a nearby batik factory on Saturday'. The news is not Fake, however how it is told, who is to blame and how it is combined with other news, is very interesting and worrying. In this post we take a closer look at how a 'bloodred coloured flood' reveals many issues and how fingers are pointed at the wrong 'bad guy'.

The first I heard about it was through a Whatsapp from someone in Singapore on Saturday afternoon. Soon after that message, many people started posting about it online and one after another mediaplatform brought this "news". It was mostly the same text and video from Twitter:
A surreal, blood-red river inundated the Indonesian village of Jenggot after floods hit a nearby batik factory on Saturday, causing a frenzy on social media.
"I am so afraid if this photo gets into the bad hands of hoax spreaders," said a Twitter user Ayah E Arek-Arek. "Fear mongering narratives about signs that it is the end of the world, bloody rain, etc."
Pekalongan is a city known for manufacturing batik, a traditional Indonesian method of using wax to resist water-based dyes to depict patterns and drawings, usually on fabric.
It is not uncommon for rivers in Pekalongan to turn different colours. Bright green water covered another village north of the city during a flood last month.
"Sometimes there are purple puddles on the road too," said Twitter user Area Julid, who claimed to be from the area.
The head of Pekalongan disaster relief, Dimas Arga Yudha, confirmed that the photos being circulated were real.
"The red flood is due to the batik dye, which has been hit by the flood. It will disappear when it mixes with rain after a while," he said.
Less than a month ago, two large landslides hit a village in Indonesia's West Java province, destroying property and killing at least 13 people.
Thousands of users on Twitter shared photos and videos of the village south of Pekalongan city in Central Java being flooded by crimson-coloured water, which some social media users said reminded them of blood.
(source: Article 
Flooding turns Indonesian village waters red with factory dye on CBC News, 6 February 2021)

Pekalongan is a city known for manufacturing batik, a traditional Indonesian method of using wax to resist water-based dyes to depict patterns and drawings, usually on fabric

Soon I read in comments that it was not a Batikworkshop, but most likely a textile printing factory. On Facebook the owner of a well-known Batikworkshop in Pekalongan posted that we shouldn't believe the story that it is a Batik Tulis workshop that is responsible. She states that the coloured water is clearly from a textile printing factory who create imitation, so Fake Batik, or that it is waste from the local Jeans factory. She continues that we should work on solving this problem together, referring to the floods that happen every raining season in Pekalongan. And ends her post with "Close the bad factories!"

It is not the first time that bright coloured water near and in Pekalongan is said to be caused by the 'Big Batik industry'. In the Summer of 2019, in the dry season, the rivers in Pekalongan also turned red. In an article from July the Health Service checks the water, saying it turned red from dyes from Batikworkshops and that it is not clear yet if it is unsafe or not. A month later an article got published with the following statement:
According to the Head of the Health Service, synthetic dyes used in the batik coloring process contain various heavy metals, such as chromium (Cr), cadmium (Cd) and other heavy metals," he explained to Tribunjateng.com, Tuesday (6/8/2019).
The heavy metal threatening the health of humans who live in locations contaminated with waste such as Pekalongan City.
"Although there have been no reports of chronic health cases due to batik waste, pollution still threatens health. It can even cause various chronic diseases if heavy metals are absorbed by the body in the long term" he said.
(source: "Masyarakat Kota Pekalongan Diintai Penyakit Kronis dari Limbah Batik"("Pekalongan City Community Stalked by Chronic Disease from Batik Waste", August 2019 )

So Batikworkshops are the bad guys, or are they... All the articles on the 'bloodred coloured flood' never mention Batikworkshops, but call them factories or textile printing factories. On one hand it is a clear case of not knowing what Batik actually is. Not being aware that actual Batik is generally made in a small scale handmade production. Even if it is a bigger workshop, it cannot be compared with a textile factory. Especially the textile factories that produce Fast Fashion. To give a better idea about the scale of the textile factories compared to the Batikworkshops, I found this great thesis! Here is a little part on the specific textile industry in Pekalongan:
Manufacturing contributed one fifth (20 percent) of the total GPRD in Pekalongan between 2008 and 2010; the contribution was a bit higher (23 percent in 2008 and 23.6 percent in 2010). Textile production and the packaging of fish are the two main activities in the manufacturing sector. Textiles include the industrial production of cloth printed with batik motifs (i.e. sarong and slendang) and garments, using automatic and modern looms. According to statistical data of Pekalongan city and Pekalongan District, in 2010 there were at least 24 textile factories located in the city and district of Pekalongan. (...) Export from Pekalongan (both from the city and from the Pekalongan districts) consists mostly of these textile products—garments, printed sarongs with batik motifs and palekat sarongs.
The small-scale traditional batik industry which I focus upon is not included in the statistics. The category of textile production (i.e. manufacture) never includes batik. (...) It was dificult for me to collect official data on batik production, as the industry is mostly home-based, consisting of typically one to four workers, and businesses are not always stable: during the peak season they exist, during the slack season many disappear.
Footnote: The word batik in this thesis refers to any textile with a batik pattern and to the technique of manual production. In this way I take the deinition of local batik producers as leading. The traditional batik producers do not regard the machine-based production as batik. However, statistics do not differentiate between printed and hand-made batik and classify most traditional batik production under trade.
(source:  Thesis 'Business and politics in provincial Indonesia: The batik and construction sector in Pekalongan, Central Java' by Savirani, A., 2015)

Map of Jenggot region, see border in red. The bright red line is the street Jalan Pelita III were the redblood flood was. The light and dark blue line are the rivers going through this area. And below you see three stars with red circles, these are the Textile factories

It is not uncommon for rivers in Pekalongan to turn different colours. Bright green water covered another village north of the city during a flood last month

A few years ago I read an article (sorry, can't find it at the moment) that was about the water in the Kali Pekalongan, the main river, that often turns bright blue, or purple or red. It again pointed fingers to 'the Big Batik Factories', but it was also mentioned it was most likely to come from the jeans factory located near the river. 
Java has one of the most polluted rivers in the World, Citarum River. It is in West-Java right next to Jakarta heading towards Bandung. If you look up images of this river, it is just clear horror. Next to mountains of trash, toxic chemicals are dumped in this river. According to Greenpeace it is dumped by textile factories that produce Fast Fashion for the Western market. Near and in Pekalongan, as mentioned above, are also textile factories. 

The greencoloured flood that happened about a month ago is mentioned in most news-articles. A shocking photo that got shared on social media shows all the different colours the water has had this year alone!! It includes the green in Degayu. This region of Pekalongan is located on the coast. After searching online, I found out that the green was not caused by any dye or waste, but by 'mata lele', Duckweed. Duckweeds can double their mass in between 16 hours to 2 days under optimal nutrient availability, sunlight and water temperature. So the flooded area in Degayu turned bright green because of a natural phenomenon!

"The red flood is due to the batik dye, which has been hit by the flood. 
It will disappear when it mixes with rain after a while"


A video posted on Radar Pekalongan shows the police giving a short statement about the red coloured flood. They are showing bags of what seems to be synthetic red fabric dye. They refer to it as Warna Batik and explain there were many plastic bags found. They think this is the source of the red colour. He explains how one kilo can already colour the water bright red. This is true, because when I dye Batiks myself 50 grams is more then enough to colour a bucket of 10 liters of water bright red. I was also thinking about the dye seller I visited in October 2019 in Pekalongan. The shop called 'Jerman' specialised in synthetic dyes, hence the name 'Jerman' which refers to Germany that exported the first synthetic dyes to Indonesia. I bought some powders for an installation I was going to make for the Batik Week celebrations. The shop was filled with bags, big and small piled up on the tiled floor. If a flood would hit a place like this, I am sure the whole of Pekalongan would look like a rainbow.

Photo I took in October 2019 at the textile dye shop Jerman in Pekalongan (ID)

As far as I can tell they do not mention clearly if the dyes in fact came from a Batikworkshop. However in the description under the YouTube video the street is mentioned, Jalan Pelita III. So this morning I picked up my yellow friend in Google maps and walked through this street. If you never 'berjalan-jalan' in Street-view, I can highly recommend it. The street is indeed filled with all kind of places with a sign with 'Batik' in their name, but none specify that they make handwritten Batik. To my surprise Street-view captured a visual story that includes imitations hanging out to dry (or an actual Batikmaker just finished 30 identical Batiks, not very likely), actual screen-print screens standing in front of a house that are known to be used for, again, imitation batik. Some Tie-dye laying to dry on the grass, a motorcycled packed with piles of printed textiles with a Batik motif and much, much more, have a look:

Less than a month ago, two large landslides hit a village in Indonesia's West Java province, destroying property and killing at least 13 people

Apart from the coloured water, what actually causes these floods? It is a combination of factors, with many human factors that could be resolved. Climate change causes the weather to become more extreme. On Java an extreme hot dry season is now followed by an intense wet season. It rains more, harder and longer. Many places on Java have problems with drainages. Litter and lack of maintenance easily turn streets into rivers in minutes. I have experienced this when I was on Java in 2016. It was crazy to sit on the back of Barbara's scooter, just stopping to put on a raincoat, and moments later be on a full river which was a road before. I never experienced the floods in Pekalongan, lucky me, but every year the timelines are filled with the rising water. Museum Batik gets flooded almost every year, more than once and now has 5 centimeters of water indoors. 
Next to these factors, there are other factors that make the floods even more dangerous. Landslides also occur regularly on Java. Most are followed after heavy rain. Because of deforestation, clear-cutting, mining & quarrying and construction activities, there is little natural protection left. 
In the amazing film 'Tanah Ibu Kami' ("Our Mother's land") this is one of the subjects discussed. A true must see movie, go watch it now (after reading my post)!

Cover of thesis 'Awareness of Environmental Impacts of Batik Industry
A case study of Central Java, Indonesia' 
by Jenna Sanders, 2020, 
with detail of a Batik by Mak Sium, Batang (ID)
Last year I contributed to a thesis research on the environmental impacts of the Batik Industry. I told Jenna Sanders I was happy to provide info and images like the cover photo. I also told her that although the Batik industry can do with many improvements, focussing on them distracts from the harm the big industries in Indonesia cause. 
By now again pointing the finger to Batik, it shows how little aware we are of the impact of actual factories, the impact of Fast Fashion and the impact of climate change. This recent news might leave people with the idea they can better not buy Batik, because it is clearly harmful for its surroundings. And there is truth in this, as is brought forward in this post, but it totally goes past the general "not taking care of water pollution" in Indonesia. We can not blame Batik for what is happening in Pekalongan. While one street was red, the whole city was flooded with brownish mud-like water. I hope this post gives a better insight in what the actual story is and how we should really reclaim the term Batik. Let's call Fake Batik what it is, Fast Fashion, and let's think about how we can solve the many water issues (floods/pollution/lack of clean drinking water) Pekalongan is facing. Ayo!