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!

January 28, 2021

Cinta Batik & Dual Heritage - Introducing Lara of the brand Dewi

I have been following Lara on Instagram for a while now. When she asked me for an interview on her site (read it here '#DewiMeets: Sabine Bolk), I thought it would be nice to also make a blogpost about her and her brand Dewi in return. Her love for Batik and how she shares it online is wonderful. It was also great to talk with her in person, we talked for 2 hours and honestly probably could share Batik stories all day. So I am happy to introduce Lara of the brand Dewi here on my blog.

Lara grew up in Germany and actually grew up with Batik. Her mother use to dress her up in it. She has old photos of her wearing all kinds of clothing made with Batik. Her mother often went to Indonesia and really liked Indonesian textiles. But Lara’s more clear first encounter with Batik happened a few years ago.
In 2015 when Lara was studying International cultural and business with the focus on Southeast Asia she did an exchange semester in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. During this she did a study project in Bogor where she asked people about their relationship with Batik. It was a great experience because everyone told her they really loved batik, also the young people. And although they loved it and think it is beautiful, they also told her they mostly bought the printed textiles. The main reason these printed textiles being more affordable than handmade Batik. This is especially true for Bogor, near Jakarta. In Jakarta Batik prices can get pretty high. Handmade Batik sold there is often 3 times the price of what it was at the Batikworkshop. 

In 2018 Lara re-discovered the Indonesian fabrics her mother collected and wanted to make something with them. She made some small things first like a bag. About a year ago Lara became more active with her brand Dewi and it is lovely to follow her process on Instagram.
She went to Yogyakarta (and the small island Una-Una, Sulawesi) during the Winter months end of 2019, beginning 2020. She luckily returned right before the Pandemic started. She had the plan to buy Batik in advance so she could start-up Dewi when she returned to Vienna, Austria. 
She ordered her Batiks from Batikworkshop Winotosastra in Yogyakarta. Winotosastro is for many a first and very welcome introduction to Batik. They have a wonderful working-space and produce both Tulis and Cap. She explained the process took about 3 weeks. She picked motifs and colours she liked and made first a big sample piece with all the motifs in Cap. 
She ended up with a suitcase full of Batik Cap in reds, blues, browns and black with motifs like ‘kawung’, ‘pilin’, ‘hujan’ and my favourite ‘Beras tumpah’.

Lara with Batikcap printer at Batikworkshop Winotosastro in Yogyakarta (ID)

One of Lara’s favourite patterns is ‘Parang’, she feel this motif can provide the wearer strength during specific occasions. She also likes the more modern looking motifs like ‘Rattan’, or ‘Rotan’. I know ‘Rattan’ as a filling pattern used on the Northcoast that refers to the walls made from bamboo that look exactly like these squares in the motif. You can find these different patterns in Lara collection with also explanations behind every motifs.
Lara makes all kinds of accessories like hip bags, scrunchies, hair ties and since last year face masks. I have a lovely face mask by her with ‘Beras tumpah’ in black.
She focus on accessories for now so she doesn’t have to work with different sizes. She does want to experiment with clothing that doesn’t just fit a certain body size in the near future. I love this, because the Batik clothing I have, made in Jakarta or made by Guave, are also like this. I can wear them regardless my own weight or the layers I might want to wear underneath. This make them wearable for a long time and through many seasons. 

Photo of the package with the Batik mask gift Lara send me last year

Next to Batik, Lara will add some other Indonesian textiles to her brand. She will make items from Ikat, Songket, Lurik and Tenun. Some of these pieces were collected by her mother, some she bought new. She found a Lurik weaving in Jogja. It was run by one family. They did everything, from the dyeing to the weaving on a loom (partly mechanical, in Dutch ‘trapweefgetouw’). She wants to show Indonesia is more then just Batik, however Batik will always be included.

Lara is currently based in Vienna and here she noticed that not many people know Batik. It is very different from the Netherlands, many people know Batik here, and not just the people from the big Indo-European community.
There is in Austria a big interest in craft, so there is a market for handmade products. Lara uses her site and Instagram, and before the pandemic craftmarkets, to introduce people to Batik. When she was in Jogja a friend of hers, who is a videographer, made great footage of her and the making process of Batik. Check out the videos on her Insta and Youtube

Lara uses her brand Dewi not just to share about Batik and other Indonesian textiles, but also to share on her dual heritage as she nicely calls her being of Indonesian and German descent. Her mother is German and her father is Indonesian, from Bandung on Java.
Her dual heritage was a topic that was and maybe still is very sensitive to talk about. She recently shared her story on her experience in an article on Indojunkie (an English version will be published on Lara’s blog soon). 
She tells me it took her two months to finally be ready to share it. She got great respons to it and also messages from many people that had similar experiences.
We talked about how strange it is we live in a world were we ourselves do not get the freedom of identifying as we want. We get put on labels by the outside. It is too common to question someone’s beloning. Which is very hurtful. 
You should be free to express which heritage, roots and gender you feel you would like to express at any point of time. And not be confronted by others that just want to point out they think you are different. 
Growing up myself I was told a lot I was ‘the other’, yet I always felt accepted in some way and I believed that being different was actually a plus. Being the same as everybody else never got anybody anywhere… This being said, I do wish I was made aware of discrimination and racisme more clearly. I never understood when I was young why some of my friends were being picked on, to later find out why. When I learned more about this, I felt so ashamed that I at that time I wasn’t aware and it made me so sad. Being raised so called ‘colourblind’ sounds idealistic, but we should really teach our children about racisme and discrimination. We should acknowledge this factors play a big role in our society. So it is good that this topic is being discussed more and happy Lara also shares her story through her brand Dewi.

During Lara’s longer stay in Jogja in the Winter of 2019/2020 she not only bought Batik, she also  learned Javanese dance. She had the wish to at least learn one traditional Javanese dance. 
She studied with a teacher for two months and learned the dance ‘Nawung Sekar’. It is a basic dance that is often the first dance you get taught. Although it is a basic dance, it turned out it was very precise. Every placement, even of each toe, had to be exactly right. 
Lara not just studied the dance, she also made an amazing short video at a temple complex near Jogja. She bought a full traditional outfit for it including a made-to-fit headpiece. She looks absolutely stunning! You can watch the video on her Instagram 

Dance lessons 

Dance Nawung Sekar performed by Lara in traditional dance wear

For more on Lara and her brand Dewi check out her website www.laradewi.com

And aNERDgalery just posted an interview with Lara also in the aNERDspective series ‘aNERDspective Ep. 27: Dancing the Winter Away, One MM at a Time

January 19, 2021

Taking Batik Online

Lawasan Batik on IG Live with batik entrepeneur Widianti Widjaya of batikworkshop Oei Soe Tjoen

Normally I would have posted an end of the year look-back post or a welcome 2021 post, but since nothing is normal in this New Normal I haven't posted anything. So my first post in this new year will be a follow-up on my previous post  'How to get Batik into This New Normal'
In the previous post I wrote about how Batik is getting more visible online and how this is great and tricky at the same time. As I wrote how many organisations hosted all kind of Zooms with mostly as speakers the bigger Batik bosses and heads of all kinds of yayasans (stichting/foundation). Once in a while smaller Batikworkshops or Batikmakers got a platform. It is actually the same with how it was with events before the Pandemic. It is something I would like to see change in, since it is the Batikmakers who still hold the most knowledge in my eyes. But there are many factors at play why Batikmkaers aren't getting a platform online or are not taking these online stages. I hope with this ongoing situation we are all in more organisations on Java will work on improving this and make it easier for Batikmakers to also be present online.

Three platforms that do a better job at featuring the makers and are an Online Must Follow are the following: 

  • aNERDgallery with their series aNERDspective. Tony of aNERDgallery has every time lovely guests who either make, work, sell or in some other way are connected with Batik. Also Sustainability is a returning welcome topic. I was a guest twice myself. We did a IG live two weeks ago reflecting on 2020 and looking forward to our 2021 plans, rewatch it here!
  • Samadaya, the long awaited online platform of my Batikmentor Pak William Kwan. Through their website and on Instagram they share more on the research they did these past 10 years (or is it alreday 20 years?) and on their future plans
  • Lawasan Batik, Miss Elok who calls herself a Batik storyteller (wish I claimed that title haha) has done this past year IG live Batik talks with like every Batikworkshops and organisation active on Java! It was great seeing so many familiar faces and also get little tours in workplaces. I should be jealous, but I just feel happy someone is doing this and sharing this! 

Samadaya was one of the few platforms that had Batikmakers as a guest, here Miss Nurul from Batang, Miss Dwi and Ibu Ramini from desa Jeruk, Lasem

Instagram stories on Reclaiming the term Batik

As for Batik being sold online, it is already 10 years ago in 2010 I wrote about Batik being sold online and how difficult it is to know whether it is handmade or printed, and if the Facebook pages in this case used just images found online of Batikmakers or they actually knew the makers personally. This is of course still the case and this last years I saw the number of brands selling printed textiels under the name 'Batik' grow and grow. A year ago I shared my thoughts on this on Instagram again and reached out to sellers and brands to reclaim the term 'Batik'. Unesco under which Batik is protected as an intangible heritage is very clear on what we can call 'Batik'. By reclaiming the term for handmade Batik, we make it easier for buyers to actually support Batik. I spoke about this already often and I am happy there are more and more brands making a stand with me. I feel very grateful that some brands I reached out to, now state clearly what kind of textiles they use, whether it is handmade by canting or cap or is just a printed textile with batikmotifs. It is an important step and I hope all the new brand thats sprouted during the lockdown will take the time to inform themselves and their customers. We can only truly support Batik and celebrate heritage if we stay away from Fast Fashion printed fakes!

IG Live by Batik Tiga Negeri in Lasem, 
the internet quality of the feeds are not always great, 
but still great Batiks can be sold this way

Another new online things with Batik is sales on Instagram by Batikshops on Java. These shops often rely on either big resellers or on (local) tourists and of course on people that need Batik (clothing) for their work, parties and events. Since we are not going anywhere, this has a huge impacted on the Fashion industry worldwide. Although the Batik market is a lot smaller than that of Fast Fashion. Batik is definitely still part of this system. Now that not many people buy new handmade Batik, sellers are using online platforms like Instagram to do sales online. You can often shop by taking a screenshoot of the Batik item you want and whatsapp it to the shop. Of course this is just for people in Indonesia, but it is great to see that all these online options are helpful in presenting Batik. Of course buying Batik this way will never replace the joy of buying Batiks directly from a Batikmaker or at a Batikshop, but it is great to see these options are embraced and seem the work well.

A Online Instagram live sale by Galeri Batik YBI

Taking Batik Online is something I already did with my blog and I am very thankful for all other online possibilities. I myself could recently do a talk for the Dutch Traditional Wear organisation (Kostuumvereniging, watch it here it is in Dutch) and I got added to the Craft Council Craftmap & they shared my story also in an interview (also in Dutch). 

I am working on my own online platform for Batik. I hope I can share soon more about it. I already told a little during the aNERDspective of aNERDgallery. My wish is to make an online database to access mainly Batik history. I hope to present my plans in 6 months or so, but first I am finishing my ongoing research-project 'Re-telling the history of the (Indo-)European influence on Batik'. It will never be finished of course, but I want to wrap up my RCMC Research Associate position for now to make room to work on the online platform. 

For now keep visiting my blog, a new post is coming soon!

Stay safe, stay home, stay healthy!

Virtual hugs,


October 23, 2020

How to get Batik into This New Normal

In a time it seems everything is taking place online it has been quiet on my blog. Not that I didn’t write or because you haven’t visit. The opposite. My blog has been visited so much, especially in the beginning of the pandemic and I am happy with all the new readers that reached out! Yesterday I joined this amazing online launch on a fully virtual made Batik exhibition and I thought I needed to write an update here on these past few months.

Opening of Virtual Exhibition by Kibas

Batik under covid

When Covid became a global pandemic it had a huge impact on Batik. The sales in Batik dropped and most Batikworkshops on Java stopped producing for several months. Batik depends, must like other local crafts unfortunately, on tourism. Not just tourists from abroad, but also Indonesians themselves. For example Lasem and Pekalongan are both cities that have many people visiting just to buy Batik and of course they combine it with trying out the food specialities and going to Museums or events. I saw myself last year how Lasem is catering more and more to tourism and it had a great positive impact. Old buildings, like Rumah Merah or Rumah Oei, have been restored and turned into cultural hotspots with great guest-rooms. Cultural Batiktrips got organised by different parties, like Awesome Lasem, were a group of people would just hop from Batikworkshop to Batikworkshop while enjoying nature and food. 

Most Batikworkshop have specific deals with specific parties, like resellers or shops, but also organisations that do events and tours. It is great for Batikowners and makers since they can focus on making Batik and not on the marketing. For all parties connected to a Batikworkshop they can connect different businesses and all make profit from the growing interest in Bartik. However as soon as Covid happened, it showed how fragile this system is. If sells dropped and people can not travel, all parties get affected. However Batikmakers get affected the most, they can not do anything else then just produce Batik. And if they stop, all else stops also. For the resellers, shops and organisations there is little they can do if they can't sell any Batiks...Sooo it was very good to see that actually some organisations really made an effort in providing income for the Batikmakers. A lot start making facemasks, but also just did fundraising campaigns so Batikmakers could get paid even without Batiks being sold. Kesengsem Lasem were I gave my talk last year was fast to response to the pandemic. They focussed first mostly on giving informations on wearing masks and on how to disinfecting working surfaces so people could continue working safely. They went around town giving cleaning products to batikmakers, but also foodsellers. It shows such dedication to keeping your whole community safe. Really inspiring!

Zoom/Talk/Insta lives

Of course most organisations turn online. Which is great for me, but I wonder how great it is for the Batikmakers. In the talks from Indonesia I see mostly the same people, often the bigger Batik bosses and heads of all kinds of yayasans (stichting/foundation). Smaller Batikworkshop owners and batikmakers aren't really invited to talk Batik. However interesting topics do get discussed, mostly in Bahasa Indonesia and sometimes in English. One question keeps popping up: How to get Batik into This New Normal? Batik is under constant threat;  Competing with the Fast Fashion Fake printed textiles called 'Batik Print' and it is getting extinct since most Batikmakers are above 50 years old and younger generations see no future in working long laborful days for little payment. Batik need to become fair, safe and independent. It need to become sustainable. Not in the future, but Now.

And so are much other things in our lives that need to become sustainable, it is all connected and we are running out of time. Of course in this moment are hands are also partly bound. There is only so much you can do from afar and reaching the Batikmakers was difficult even before this pandemic ruled the world.

The New Normal

I was invited by Modemuze to be one of the bloggers for their exhibition 'The New Normal' in collaboration with OSCAM. I didn't write on Batik, but I was happy to put some of the feelings and thoughts on current events on digital paper and reflect on the role fashion plays in it all.  My reflecting post Creating shared experiences at a distance focus on the work shown by Karim Adduchi and other pieces from the Modemuze collection that are made from a same drive. Looking at what people make together even without being able to actually be together works inspiring and healing. 

Creating shared experiences at a distance at The New Normal at OSCAM

A work, or well a dress, that I highlight in my blog, I saw in the exhibition 'Mode op de Bon' in the Verzetsmuseum, also in Amsterdam. The exhibition showed the creative and often sustainable solution people came up with to be able to wear nice, even fashionable cloths during war time. One dress stood out right away. It is a full length Gala looking dress which from up-close turns out the be made from all small patches. The dress made during the Second World war is made from no less than 1280 'silks'(‘zijdjes’). These pieces of silk were giving as a kind of promotional gift with Turmac cigarettes. This specific series has all kinds of Wayang figures on it. Just collecting enough pieces to make the dress would have been already a challenge. It is unknown if the dress was ever worn or who even made it. I like to think this project most have given the maker comfort and hope, imagining the first party in freedom were this dress could have been worn.

Dress from Turmac silks
collection Museum Rotterdam, inv. nr. 68832
 Photo Sabine Bolk

The exhibition at OSCAM in Amsterdam (NL) will be on display till 2 November so go check it out and on Modemuze you can read all the blogs including mine (in Dutch)

Staying Connected

My Bday Batik Day Zoom - if you would like to watch, please send me an email

While this year moved very slow, it also moved surprisingly fast. When in March are 'intelligent lockdown' started my agenda became very empty. I though I would have much time to focus on my ongoing researchproject Re-telling the history of the (Indo-)European influence on Batik, but it was hard to work without access to the collection, online database and much needed guidance. So the first weeks I spend mostly making plans to fill my week;  I made an stopmotion, I discussed my Art in my home, I was on IG live at aNERDgallery, made an onlineprogramma for the cancelled Tong Tong Fair together with Guave and much more.

I am good at keeping myself busy, but all the cancelling, replanning and recancelling is taking its toll on my motivation. I am trying to focus again on my research and on the works I am making inspired by this research. One of these works, I started last year. The idea was to creating a Batik based on a classic Java Print by Vlisco and hereby return it to it original form. The original form of this specific Java Print being a Batik Tiga NegeriNegeri from Negara which mean Country and Tiga meaning Three. So believed was that these types of Batiks were produced in three regions on Java in the 19th century in three different styles. My plan was to send the Batik to different Batikmakers/Artist each making one layer of the batik, adding one colour. So that it again produced in three places, but now three countries. The first copy I made I brought to Java were Miss Siti continued on it. In February, just before the lockdown, the Guave ladies picked the pieces up at Miss Siti in Batang. They are so great! 

I just finished a second Batik, today I will boil out the wax and this piece will go first to the USA. It goes much slower this project then planned, but I am happy with this idea of working together abroad and reflecting on this history, the colonial and the textile trade. So a little sneak peak for now.

Making of

After dyeing, but still with wax

Saya harap semua orang tetap sehat dan sampai jumpa lagi, Hati-hati dan Kembali!

Stay safe, saty healthy and take care of yourself & your surroundings,

Kind regards & warm wishes,


July 24, 2020

Gringsing, warrior pants or fever catcher

Photo of man in Batik pants with Gringsing motif, 
'Portret van een lid van het huispersoneel', 
ca. 1890-1900, collection NMVW, number TM-60008404

On the first of June my article 'De he­len­de krach­ten van het gring­s­ing-mo­tief 'on the batikmotif Gringsing was published on Modemuze. My article was a reaction to the theme-page posted before on Modemuze with the title 'The Fashion of Protection'. The post was made inspired by and in reference to the current pandemic we are in.In it Grinsging is mentioned as an apotropaic motif. The motif is widely known with Batikfans, however I knew little of it and thought it would be nice to explore this motif in more depth, especially in this strange and scary times we are in.
Hope you are safe and able to social distance! Keep in mind that although it is very cool that in past time and maybe still Gringsing was used as a protective cloth, better to wear a facemask, wash your hands and keep keeping that distance.

Batik with Gringsing motif hanging to dry after dye bath, 
at batikworkshop Winotosastro in Yogyakarta, Java (ID) in 2016

Grinsing, or Gringsing is a motif build up from little halve circles with a dot in the middle of each circle. Gringsing is a backgroundmotif, isen-isen, or filling motif. This means that it is used on the background of a Batik design. Filling motifs always have names and meanings, but they are seldom the main motif. However when Gringsing is used it is often the main meaning of the Batik cloth: namely to protect the wearer from illness.
Protection can simple be gained by wearing it or by using it during rituals. In these rituals a traditional medicine man, doekoen, or family member would wrap the cloth with the Gringsing motif around the sick person. The cloth in this way would catch the illness, specifically fever. The motif is very common in slendangs, a small Batik used as a carrier for babies. It is especially important to protect newborns from disease, so a little extra support is always helpful.

I contacted different Batikexperts about the meaning and the use of the Gringsing motif. What I noticed was that immediately they pointed out that this use was in the past. Often one gets a giggly respons when talking about old rituals connected to folk belief. The general feel is that they are outdated or just superstition and don't match with modern (Islamic) believes. But most folk beliefs are connected to Kejawen and are embedded with traditional Javanese culture. 
I did find a nice reference in the book 'Gedragen doeken' by Liesje de Leeuw. In the chapter 'Oma's sarong vangt koorts' ('Grandmothers sarong catches fever') Evy van Cauter tells how her Indonesian mother-in-law would use one of her old sarongs when someone got ill. She would wrap the children with fever tightly in the cloth and put them to bed. "The sarong would catch the fever", Van Cauter says.
My contacts did all tell me that Gringsing was very old. The motif also has different versions in different regions on Java. There is one that is more square, others are more diamond shaped. Inspired by this writing this blogpost, I thought it would be nice if you can learn about this and practice these different types of Gringsing in a colouringpage

The colouring pages are free to download on my website

On Java makers and wearers distinguish themselves with motifs connected to their region. There are even motifs that are strictly for the royal family, Vorstenlanden or 'princely lands' Batik motifs. These 'prohibited' motifs, Laragan, are good recognisable by their repetitive designs. Within the kraton familymembers each family would get their own versions of certain motifs like Parang or Kawung.
These motifs are symbol for balance, inner peace and decisiveness. Qualities fitting with good leadership. Nowadays the Laragan motifs are worn by everybody and are made by almost all batikworkshops. These motifs are extremely populair because of their connection to power. Gringsing is also very populair and is also being made all across Java, however it is not one of these formally prohibited motifs.

Books with info on Gringsing, 
starting at the top; 'batik klasik' by Dr. Hamzuri (1981), 
'Batik, Fabled cloth of Java' by Inger McCabe Elliot (1984), 
'Gedragen Doeken' by Liesje de Leeuw (2016), 
'Ensiklopedia, the Heritage of Batik' by Primus Supriono (2016) 
and 'Batik, ontwerp, stijl en geschiedenis' by Fiona Kerlogue (2004)

Looking for answers I turned to my books on Batik. Gringsing is described as frog-rill, scales, snake or dragon skin with a note that it wards of diseases. It is also not helping that the double Ikat weaving technique from the region Tenganan on Bali is called the same - with a slightly different spelling - Gerinsing. This ikat also has the same meaning.
The meaning is being explained through the literal translation of the word in Sankrit: 'Gering' is 'sick' or 'illness', while 'sing' is 'not' or 'no'. About the correctness of this explanation are different opinions, just as on the possible similarities between these two Indonesian textiles. In short the motifs just don't look enough alike to explain their similar name and meaning.

After going through the books I owned, I ended up at my PDF version of one of the oldest books on Batik, 'De Batik-kunst in Nederlandsch-Indië en haar geschiedenis' by G.P. Rouffaer and Dr. H.H. Juynboll from 1914. According to Rouffaer Gringsing is one of the oldest Batikmotifs. It is mentioned in different Javanese sources and the oldest of these sources is the Pararaton, Pustaka Raja or the Book of Kings from the 13th century.
In this manuscript are short stories on the kings of the Singhasari and Majapahit empire. These empires boundaries stretched beyond Java, over other Indonesian islands and part of what is now Malaysia. In 1896 linguist Dr. J.L.A. Brandes published a study of the manuscript with translations in Dutch. 
Another important source that is mentioned by Rouffaer is the Malat. A Balinese manuscript from the legacy of  linguist H.N. van der Tuuk. In here Grinsging is connected with different types of Wayang stories, shadow puppet theatre. Rouffaer uses Plate 58 in as an example in his book. It shows a square cloth, possible a headscarf, that was part of a series of samples with motifs from Yogyakarta. 

'Batikpatroon: Gringsing wayang',  from before 1891, number RV-847-114, collection NMVW 
Published as plate 58 in 'De Batik-kunst in Nederlandsch-Indië en haar geschiedenis' from 1914

The square cloth shows different Wayang characters surrounded by Gringsing. Rouffaer thinks this is an example of 'Gringsing Wajang', which is mentioned in the old sources mentioned in this article. However the 'Gringsing Wajang' is also a motif within the earlier mentioned Geringsing, the double woven ikats from bali. In the book 'Five centuries of Indonesian textiles - the Mary Hunt Kahlenberg collection' is a beautiful example included.

Photo of page 218 -219 from the book 
'Five centuries of Indonesian textiles - the Mary Hunt Kahlenberg collection' 

One of the biggest discoveries Rouffaer made was that Gringsing was in the 16th century part of the ‘Javaanse oorlogskostuum’ (Javanese war uniform) as he calls it:

"Yet before, in earlier times, especially in the 16th century, Yes, then Javanese would wear a martial semi-long pants, their lantjingan, of batiked cloth. And again mainly with that Gringsing-motif..."

“Doch vroeger. Speciaal in de 16e eeuw. Ja, toen droegen de Javanen hun krijgshaftige haIf lange broek, hun lantjingan, van gebatikte stof. En alweer voornamelijk in dat gringsing-patroon”…” - Rouffaer, G.P., De Batik-kunst in Nederlandsch-Indië en haar geschiedenis, page. 430.

That these warrior pants were made of ikat was less likely. If you put scissors to a so fine woven ikat like that it would unravel without stopping. Yet the royal family did wear pants of woven Songket and Ikat fabric if I am not mistaken, but it had to be woven in that shape already, so an very expensive product. 
So the old manuscript might be writing about Batik, or Ikat, or Batik...
Rouffaer also concluded that the Gringsing Batikmotif could only be made with the use of a canting, waxpen. 

To conclude, Gringsing is very old, maybe the oldest Batikmotifs known. It possible gave warriors strenght and protection, exactly what we need now in our battle against Covid-19. A fitting motif in these difficult and scary times.

Thanks Modemuze, Modemuze editor-buddy Roberto Luis martins, my Batikmentor Pak William Kwan and fellow batik-fan Jennifer Wanardi! 

The colouring pages are free to download on my website

May 13, 2020

Indonesian Cookbook 'Bijbel van de Indonesische keuken'

The Indonesian cookbook 'Bijbel van de Indonesische keuken' by Maureen Tan next to pink klepon made by me

End of last year Maureen Tan contacted me if I was able to help her with an idea for her upcoming, and now published, Indonesian Cookbook. The cookbook 'Bijbel van de Indonesische keuken' is part of a series by Carrera Culinair and although the format is similar for every book each author makes the book trully their own. Maureen Tan explained she was making the book with recipes written down by her mother and complimented with recipes by others. Her wish was to include Batiks in the book.
When I heard it was a book on almost all Indonesian islands, I thought it would be nice if it would not be just Batiks featured in the book as decoration, but that the textiles used for the book would actually match with the location of the recipes.
With an list of possible places of recipes that would make the book, I started looking for the best matches. Because I do not own textiles of all Indonesian islands, I asked my dear friends Rachma Sri Mulyani Saloh and Ine WawoRuntu if they had textiles I could borrow.
Ibu Rachma is very active as a dancer in the dancegroup Wahana Budaya Nusantara, gives wonderful workshops to mostly Indonesian students in both dance and cooking. She is from Kalimantan and lives already many years in the Netherlands. Her knowlegde on places in Indonesia and their traditional wear is really remarkable. She had so many nice pieces and a small selection made it into the book. For example a beautiful silk sarong from Kalimantan is used for that chapter on page 132. On page 80 you find a great bright red woven piece with tiny beads from North Sumatra from her collection.
Ibu Ine is very active in promoting Indonesian culture in the Netherlands and does great work with her Stichting Hibiscus in Indonesia. I know her for many years and we try to help eachother when possible. I was so happy she could lend me some textiles, I or Ibu Rachma did not have. For example the small, but so lovely ikat from Lombok used on page 387 for the Chapter 'Kleine Soenda-eilanden'.

Selecting Indonesian textiles for the book at Ibu Rachma.
Although I have many textiles, my collection is mostly Batik.
So for the cookbook I was very lucky I could borrow textiles from my dear friends!

Book open on page 80 - 83, Chapter 'Sumatra'.
Showing a woven fabric with white beads woven into the textile on page 80.
On page 82 an orange woven fabric with red, green and blue accents and goldcoloured thread.
This fabric was one of the fabrics I could borrow from Ine WawoRuntu.
It matched perfectly with the sambal!
The book is photographed on the same fabric.
Terima kasih banyak, dear Ine for lending out your Indonesian textiles for this book!

All gathered Indonesian textiles.
With the help of Iby Ine and Ibu Rachma I was able to collect Indonesian textiles
to represent all regions featured in the book.
For every region, we had multiple options,
so that on the shooting day the best matches could be made

Book open om page 169, Chapter 'Sulawesi'.
For this chapter a yellow sarong with purple stripes
that is apart of the traditional wear Baju Bodo from Makassar, South Sulawesi.
It is photographed on a similar sarong with an orange base

In January I headed to Amsterdam with a trolley filled with Indonesian textiles. Maureen Tan was making in a few weeks all dishes in her home, every day about 15 recipes were made, styled and photographed. On the day I came, all covers for the chapters, most sambals and a couple of basic recipes were documented for the book. I was trying to get big folds out of the fabrics, but we luckily all agree that it would be nicest if you could clearly see that it were actual textiles. So kept the ironing to a minimum, and also becauce most woven textiles can not be ironed at all. In the afternoon we shared a lunch of all the things that were made that day and Maureen even made some extra for the vegetarians (me) at the table.

Photographer Sven Benjamins checking the photos he took.
The endresult is shown in the next photo, page 207 in the book

Book open on page 207, Chapter 'West-Java',
showing a peanut sambal on a Batik Tulis by batikworkshop Luminutu in Lasem.
The unfinished Batik had only its first colourbath, blue.
The mainmotif in de 'kepala' are two peacocks representing fidelity.
The book is photographed on top of the same Batik Tulis
Busy in the kitchen, from right to left: Chef and author Maureen Tan,
food-stylist Caroline van Beek and cookbook-kitchen-helper Rick Veenboer

Book open on page 202, Chapter West-Java, showing a Batik Tulis from Cirebon
which I could borrow from Rachma Sri Mulyani Saloh.
She also gave me the beautiful natural dye on which I photographed the book, also from Cirebon.
Dear Rachma many thanks for lending us your Indonesian textiles for the book!

Food-stylist Caronline van Beek is placing a sambal on a Batik.
The final photo you find in Chapter 'Oost-Java en Madura' on page 297.
The Batik Cap with motifs of bikes and coffeleaves is made by Batik Rolla in Jember, East-Java.
It was inspired by the designers background, her Dutch grandfather and coffeegrowing father

The book was published on 24 April, of course not with any big launch event and that is such a pity. But you can enjoy almost daily post by Maureen Tan on her Instagram and Facebook in which she shares recipes from her book with cooking instructions.
I also tried for the very first time to make 'klepon'. A favorite when I am on Java and on any Indonesian event in the Netherlands. This sticky riceflower balls with sweet palmsugar inside covered in cocos are not only jummy, but very pretty. I wanted to me the orginal green ones, but at the local toko it was all sold out {Me and Maureen both wonder how many people are trying out her recipes, please comment below if you have the book and made something from it}. So I bought the next in line 'Coco Pandan', which turned out to be the bright pink one. I also bought palmsugar from the toko without realizing I normally avoid any palmproducts. On Facebook I got this great tip for next time, palmsugar by Red Ape, which actually protects orangutans in the process {:(|)
Me and Koen spend last Sunday making the 'klepon'. I added first too much to the mix, then way to much cocoswater. I created a bowl full of what looked like very sticky bumble gum. Koen coached me through it, haha, and in the end we manage to make a huge amount of 'klepon'. Our neighbors and Koen's colleagues already enjoyed a batch and the rest I froze in to share on a later date with my family.

Thank you Maureen for including me in your wonderful project :)))
It was also a great learning experience exploring different textiles from all over Indonesia.
You can now buy 'Bijbel van de Indonesische keuken' by Maureen Tan, check out your local bookstore on or offline.

Book open on page 349 - 351, Chapter 'Bali',
showing a Batik Tulis with the Goddess of Water and a Karbouw,
made by an artist on Bali in the 70's,
on top of a Batik by the same artist with Dewi Sri, the Goddes of Rice.
Both Batiks were gifted to me by a lady who lived on Bali and wore these to the beach

 Recipe to make 'Klepon'
Chapter 'Oost-Java en Madura'  page 340 
Book surrounded by the ingredients

My 'Klepon' result! First try making this,
made many mistakes, like not follow the quantities to well,
and ended up with pink ones, but still very jummie!