December 31, 2015

Batik: Pattern vs. Technique

As the title of this post already points out their is a 'pattern vs. technique' debate going on. Or at least when I talk about Batik I noticed that there is a lot of confusion on what is Batik. Is it the technique or the pattern that defines it? And why is there a difference between the two?
When you share your fascination, people will share their interpretation of that fascination with you. It can be educational, confronting and even laughable and it will show you what needs to improve, in your way of sharing or in what you share to make your fascination come across.
The number of times people ask me if I make Mandala's when explaining my work, is equal to the response "Do you make Batik?" to my "I study Batik". When I then reply "No, I don't make Batik, I study the philosophy of Batik", people don't understand why. In their eyes it's a simple technique they practiced themselves when they were younger. The strange and funny thing is, all Dutch people that lived through the Seventies are Batik makers! No really! At least you almost start believing that when sharing your fascination for Batik. But dear people, what you were making in the Seventies was not Batik, yes the technique was similar, applying hot wax to a cloth to make different layers of colour, but it is not Batik! 
But what is Batik then? Well, that's why I'm starting with this post, in which I surely can not explain the complex duality between technique and patterns in Batik, but I will make a start. 
Last week an almost-cry-for-help came from Indonesia with the title 'Indonesia tries to hang onto traditional art of batik'. After being selected as UNESCO heritage in 2009, Batik started as what seemed as a flourishing uprise. But now only 6 years later Batik is still under pressure. New Batik makers are hard to find, the wages are to little to make a decent living, printed cloths flood the market and tourist & locals all keep buying the fake Batiks, because they can't tell the difference. The same problems that made Batik an almost disappeared tradition when I visited Java in 2009. My book 'Batik, a forgotten industry' about this journey is unfortunately still very up to date. Of course, just like the ones I describe in my book, some Batik makers keep on going and try to work with natural dye and re-inventing traditional patterns, but it is not enough. 
Okay, we know the problems, but how to fix them? The government of Indonesia already made a smart choice by getting Batik on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO. But what is protected and how can you protect it? 
I get angry at people who don't know what real Batik is, or businesses that sell printed Batik while marketing they want to protect and preserve Batik. Well, by not selling or buying Batik Tulis, you will not protect or preserve it! But I hadn't read the actual document either and when Renske Heringa pointed out to me: how do they know what to protect if they haven't even informed themselves? I knew there is still a lot of work to be done.
So let's start, what is the heritage everyone celebrates since 2 October 2009:
The techniques, symbolism and culture surrounding hand-dyed cotton and silk garments known as Indonesian Batik permeate the lives of Indonesians from beginning to end(....)Batik is dyed by proud craftspeople who draw designs on fabric using dots and lines of hot wax, which resists vegetable and other dyes and therefore allows the artisan to colour selectively by soaking the cloth in one colour, removing the wax with boiling water and repeating if multiple colours are desired(....)The wide diversity of patterns reflects a variety of influences, ranging from Arabic calligraphy, European bouquets and Chinese phoenixes to Japanese cherry blossoms and Indian or Persian peacocks. Often handed down within families for generations, the craft of batik is intertwined with the cultural identity of the Indonesian people and, through the symbolic meanings of its colours and designs, expresses their creativity and spirituality.(...)
Okay, and an even shorter version, it is a technique that allows you to make patterns on textiles which can be worn during special occasions. 
But when you don't know what the technique is, how it works, what it looks like, what the patterns or colours look like and when, how or what for it can be worn, you will not know what Batik is.
Okay, but do we all have to study Batik to know Batik? Well, I don't know. I've been writing, sharing, talking Batik for 6 years now, but when I got a fake printed Batik this year as a gift, my heart broke a little. This Batik was bought on Bali in a batik workshop. The tourists get a tour of the factory with real people making real Batik Tulis and then they sell them printed Batiks as Batik Tulis. How can this be possible? Maybe all our wooden shoes are machine made as well nowadays, so I'm in no position to write about this, but... Why go through the effort of making something a heritage if you are still going to lose it?

Next year will be all about Batik for me! Starting with a visit to Galerie Smend in Köln (Germany) and hopefully making a great project on Java by end of the year. So hope to see you on my journey to Batik in 2016 and wish you a happy New Year!

Do you see the difference? Front and back of Batik Tulis (my own design from Jeruk), Batik Cap (this brand is for sale at Dierenpark Taman Indonesia), handstamped cloth from Staphorst (NL), Wax print from Vlisco, Wax print from Julius Holland Wax, Java Print from Vlisco, two Batiks motive printed cloths

No this is not Batik! Books & tools from the Seventies to make 'Batik' on Batiks motive printed cloths

Canting pens on Batik Tulis, with these kind of tools a very well trained Batik maker can make a traditional Batik Tulis, like the Batik Tulis (my own design from Jeruk) in the photo

Natural Dye on a chemical dyed Batik Cap, starting at the top moving clockwise: Lerak, Jelawe, Tegeran (yellow) and Tinggi (brown)

Read more on:
- the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO: Batik
- Previous post on how to buy real batik 'The real deal'


Julien said...

Just found your blog... very interesting.... I am passionate too about Indonesian batiks, and will keep exploring your blog ! Thank uou !

Sabine Bolk said...

Thank you Julien! Visited your website, looks nice!
Greetz Sabine