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,