November 6, 2019

More Books then Batiks

Catalog 'A Royal Treasure, the Javanese Batik collection of King Chulalongkorn of Siam' (2019) 
by Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles in Bangkok, 
surrounded by flyers and souvenirs from their giftshop

This last journey to Batik I manage to collect more books then Batiks. I also got many books as gift so could bring less Batiks, but since I love books, I am very happy with these (for me) new interesting sources of information.  I thought a kind of review-sharing-book-post would be good, so here we go.

First the long anticipated catalog of the exhibition A Royal Treasure, the Javanese Batik collection of King Chulalongkorn of Siam. I was already lucky that I could plan my journey in a way that I could include a visit to this exhibition, I was later even more lucky my illness didn't prevent me from seeing it. So the first thing me and John Ang did was going here. John already went before, twice I believe, for me I only heard the stories. Since making photos is strictly prohibited seeing the exhibition felt like a real must and getting a copy of the fresh from the press catalog a dream come true. The exhibition will change two more times and surely it will two times more be filled with exquisite beauties. Every piece is of the finest quality, displayed nicely, yet something is missing. The story of the King collecting these pieces himself in three visits is inspiring and trilling, yet this story is somehow not really shared in much detail. The pieces are of the highest quality and therefor were very expensive, but no real personal taste is being revealed of the King. 
Next to that, it is unclear what information is from notes, either kept with the Batiks or from the letters (and diary?) of the King, and what is added by the curator and others. This is a pity because now it is difficult to determine what pieces might reveal something new. And something new they can definitely reveal. 
The Batiks where collected between 1871 and 1901. For certain all pieces are from before 1901 and some are dated even better, because they were archived with notes which mentioned when and where they were bought. An unique time-capsule which could make it possible to date or attribute Batiks in other collections more clearly, but it was done the other way around....
The notes are not all published in the catalog, but at least the footnotes makes it a little more clear which information comes from where. In the exhibition this is not the case and it makes you wonder how this information is being received. If I read signs in museums, I assume that what is stated is a fact, or if it is “we think” that it is mentioned as ‘attributed to or possible from’. If you mention a place the Batik is made, but this is not known for sure, I think it would be good to add this in the information. 
Why, you might wonder. 
Well, still of many older Batiks in collections we are not sure where they are actually made. This is especially the case with Batiks from the North-coast of Java. In theory their style, motifs and colours are very different, but in reality provenance, the place of origin or earliest known history, can be quite hard to determine. Some pieces in collections get attributed to different places, and people, over time. Some pieces lose their original tags or get new ones. In every book Batiks will get used to declare a new theory or are used to give other Batiks an origin. 
Of course you might think, why does this is used merely as a ‘game of cloths’ between researchers. Yes, it was for the longest time just that, but this is no longer a collection problem, but a creation problem. Batikmakers and entrepreneurs are facing problems with their own Batik history. Batikworkshops had their history in cloths, keeping old Batiks to revisit motifs or having them traced on paper. With the war on Java much of this history got lost and for many the history of their batik legacy was stopped or paused. If there were Batiks kept, they were often sold in the years following. Batik was not on high demand and backpacking adventurers wanted to pay good money for your old laundry. So these golden times for collectors are now showing their effect on Batikmakers. Now restarting Batikworkshops facing the problem of not having anything to fall back to. If lucky they have a few pieces from their family that they can combine with the knowledge stored in the mind and hand of the makers. With this need for knowledge of this history they turn to books & search online. Over the years I saw more and more motifs appear on Batiks I know from famous Batikbooks then ever before. A real realisation of how problematic this might be came to me, when a Batik entrepreneur showed me her new classic motif and moments later the book she copied if from. She pointed at the description; “This was made here!”
Yes, inspiration can be taking from anywhere and they are free to take it from books. But they use it because it is one of the few ways they get access to their own Batikhistory. They want to tell their story, continue their story. So we have to make sure that that story is as complete and correct as possible, but how do we do this?
One wish mentioned by many, Batikmakers and researchers, is the need for a kind of catalog/database that will make this North-coast Batikhistory more clear. Especially the development of Batik in Pekalongan, Batang, Semarang, Lasem and the connecting regions. There is so much debate going on about this; how to deal with this history, how makers should or should not use it, how we can use what is made today to examine what was made before or if old patterns should be re-introduced. 
What would help in this, in examining this history and using this history as current inspiration, is if we knew better what came from where and when. 
So that why the collection King Rama V made is so important and it is a great start, the exhibition and the catalog, but I am sure much more can be discovered!

One of the many full page printed fold outs of the catalog 'A Royal Treasure, the Javanese Batik collection of King Chulalongkorn of Siam' (2019) 

Page from the catalog 'A Royal Treasure, the Javanese Batik collection of King Chulalongkorn of Siam' (2019) with PR-fan and a bag label especially made for the giftshop based on a Batik motif from the collection

In September two ladies of National Palace Museum of Taiwan visited the Volkendkunde Museum and I was asked to show them our digitale Batik collection - This book arrived by post while I was on Java, a beauty with an overview of their textile collection including Batik - 'Boldness of Forms and Colors, Asian Textiles in the National Palace Museum Collection' (2015) photographed together with folders and gifts from the museum - Much appreciated!

'Industri Batik Pekalongan, Pergulatan Tanpa Akhir' by Achmad Ilyas (2018)  and 'Ensiklopedia The Heritage of Batik, Identitas Pemersatu Kebanggaan Bangsa' (2016) on a Tobal Batik sarong

A few days after my talk at Museum Batik in Pekalongan historian and auteur Achmad Ilyas gifted me his book Industri Batik Pekalongan, Pergulatan Tanpa Akhir. The book published in 2018 was only made for local use and therefor in Bahasa Indonesia and not for sale. I was really happy with this gift, because it gives me a great insight on what is known and where the information comes from. Talking with Pak Achamd it already became clear that his sources where from the Netherlands or locally from oral history. He mentioned that in Pekalongan specifically little could still be found and that maybe in Jakarta more was stored. In his book it is interesting to see photos from the Tropenmuseum, next to an Batik collection from a collector from Pekalongan. 
When I started my project, I had the question if their was a lack of information on Java to proper research their own Batik history. I noticed that many sources are here and they are not always easily accessible because they are often handwritten in Dutch and not digital yet. This auteur and book, and many others spoke to confirmed this and confirmed the need to improve this.
I photographed the book next to Ensiklopedia The Heritage of Batik, Identitas Pemersatu Kebanggaan Bangsa, because this book is made with very different sources. Namely links to blogpost and online articles. I never saw a book like this before and on one hand I salute it being a blogger and all that, on the other hand, I know how many mistakes float online, also on my own blog hehe, so how trust worthy is this Encyclopaedia? Still an interesting book and very happy Jennifer found me a copy, many thanks! 

While the book 'Industri Batik Pekalongan' mostly rely on Dutch sources, 
the Ensiklopedia is full of url's

Book '50 years Danar Hadi' open on the page where they produce silkscreen printed textiles 
- it breaks my heart that an institute like Danar Hadi sells printed textiles next to Batik Tulis and Cap, yet I appreciate they are very open about it - the book is shown on a Batik Cap blouse 
and next to a Batik Cap handbag

Book 'Batik 3 Negeri Solo, Sebuah Lengenda' by Benny Gratha (2018) 
and flyer of the Roemah Batik Lasem where they soon open a 'Tiga Negeri Museum' 
on top of the Java print classic 'Good Living'

Tiga Negeri was by far the hottest thing on Java. Either I didn't notice before, or it was always like that, or  it is because I am making my own 'Tiga Negeri'? It was as if all makers had now a version of it and it was everywhere a hot topic. 
The textile conservator Benny Gratha made quite the impact with his book Batik 3 Negeri Solo, Sebuah Lengenda published in 2018. The story that Tiga Negeri was Batik being made in three places, was debunked by him. The Tjoa Batik Family told their story to Pak Benny claiming they invented the name Tiga Negeri after the Chinese story 'The Legend of the Three Kingdom' and have been making it since 1910.
I talked with him myself about and shared the contradicting findings I made. He just had the very Javanese answer to it; their truth is just one of the truths about Tiga Negeri.
In Lasem I was surprised to be shown around the, what is going to be the first and only, Museum of Tiga Negeri. Proudly I was showed the already finished information signs. I joked that they might need to re-write this when my research project is done. But in fact it is not a joke at all.
I come across documents, fabrics and photos in archives I never saw mentioned or used before. Some will definitely shine light on stories being told & histories written, some will help proving stories are wrong, right or incomplete. Some stories will be right, but with the wrong conclusions.
We have this need of sharing big stories, while most histories are build up out of many individual tales. Just like Pak Benny said, not one truth but many. Of course we can't share everyone's stories, Social Media disagrees with me on this one, but we must make sure that the stories that are being told are the right ones; the ones that inspire, empower, make our horizons wider and our future better. By excluding stories or telling them from one point of view, will not benefit us. Hopefully it will inspire people to share their story. So thanks for sharing these stories and I am looking forward to visit the Tiga Negeri Museum!

Book 'Power Dressing, Lanna Shan Siam 19th Century Court Dress' 
by the James H.W. Thompson Foundation (2003), 
my first book on Thai traditional wear and it is with stunning photos of the clothing, 
photographed with the pineapple bag I bought in Bangkok 
on top of a map and Jim Thompson giftbag

Catalog '10th year challenges: Indonesian Batik as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity' 
by Museum Tekstil in Jakarta, (2019), 
book 'Java.Bali.Sumatra, photographies de 1860 a 1920' by Les Éditions du Pacifique (2000) 
and catalog 'The Jakarta Textile Museum' (1998) 
on top of two linnen bags

For more information on the books, content or where to get, please feel free to contact me (email or comment below) 

October 27, 2019

Ke Lasem, Ancestors & Batikfamily

Groupphoto at Roemah Merah after my talk
Screening at Ibu Maryati’s home

On 17 October I returned to Lasem, just like in 2016 on 17 October and in 2009 on 17 October. How I manage to arrive every time on exactly the same date is a mystery to me, but in Lasem they just say some ancestor is calling me.
From Yogya we, me, Hanif and her husband Abe, departed for the 6 hour journey. I never mind traveling here since the views are amazing and it is like watching a movie from your window.
The road brought us back to Semarang, where we passed Mount Ungaran. When we got closer to Lasem it was already dark, so I missed out on the familiar salt winning plots.
I got dropped of at my new temporary home, Rumah Oei, in Lasem. A classic Peranakan house, turned into a café, guesthouse and museum. My room, Rama Shinta, has the biggest bed I ever saw. An old four-poster bed with beautiful decorations on it, it make me feel like a princess.

Mount Ungaran from the car
At Roemah Oei
Wall full of family photos at Roemah Oei

The next morning I got breakfast at the restaurant for guesthouse-guests with a view on the huge mango tree that dropped fruit every 5 minutes or so and a bird signing in its cage.
They opened up the little museum, and I was so amazed. The collection of the family Oei is on display there. They had multiple businesses and even made Batik. My favorite display was a showcase filled with sarong and kebaya in boxes, little portraits of the women it belong to stand between the boxes. Also the wall with the family photos was impressive. It covered the wall completely. I love this tradition of hanging your family-tree literally in photos on the wall!

Mango harvest at Ibu Maryati
Batikmakers of Gading Kencana 
Hanif and Ibu Ramini talking tailoring for Batik shirts
Batikmakers at Sekar Kencana

After the museum visit, I took a Grab to the batikworkshop Gading Kencana, run by Ibu Maryati, Hanif’s mother. It was great to see the landscape from the back of a motorcycle, but it also worries me how dry everything is.
Arriving at Ibu Maryati, I was asked to go to the back, because they were harvesting Mangos. First thing I did was eating a Mango, but I was also already fancy dressed for my talk that evening.
After seeing the batikmakers and picking out batiks to buy, I headed to Ibu Ramini. Her Batikworkshop KUB Srikandi is were my ‘journey to Batik’ really began. I was so happy to see her again and loved that she right away had tailor questions for Hanif, {Hanif makes fashion from Batik and specialized in Sarong and kebaya}. Ibu Ramini invited me to come the next day to her batik-class and she promised to attend my talk later that day.
Next stop, Pak Sigit’s workshop ‘Sekar Kencana.’ . At first they didn’t want to let us in, and when we got in, the Batiks with Mr. Sigit signature were not available. The son in law asked us to return the next day, he hoped he could show us the pieces then.

Screening of ‘Tari Batik’ at Roemah Merah
Mr. Pop & Ibu Eka at Lumintu Batikworkshop 
Student at Ibu Ramini KUB Srikandi

In the evening was my presentation at Roemah Merah. Only a two minutes walk from Roemah Oei. I got invited by Bodhi Pop, or Mister Popular, from the Lasem Heritage Foundation. I didn’t know this group before, only online, and was amazed finding a huge community dedicated to protecting and promoting Lasem culture and heritage. Rumah Merah is a huge complex, actually consist of two Peranakan homes. They are building a ‘Tiga Negeri’ Museum that hopefully opens beginning of next year, super exciting! And they have beautiful guest-rooms also.
The foundation give tours and organize events to inspire a new generation to enjoy Lasem rich culture. I felt honoured I could share my journey here.
At the entrance they prepared for my talk and I think 30 people or more showed up, including Ibu Ramini and Ibu Maryati. Even two people drove all the way from Kudus! I heard later that no researcher actually ever come share their story in Lasem, so it is a rare occasion. I was so surprised to hear this, many Batik-researchers include Lasem in their studies & books, why not present it here then? For me it felt very logical to share my story here, a wish of mine to screen my film, so happy I got this stage.
I started with screening my film and after that gave my talk on my current research-project. My translator had a very hard time, being very nervous and not finding the words, but in general my talk came across well, I hope.
After my talk there were many questions from the audience. It was very interesting again. A batik entrepreneur replied that many of the motif attributed to Von Franquemont are still being made in her workshop now. She asked if the meaning of these motifs were known since most meanings of patterns are lost today. At the time my translator didn’t make this clear and later Abe explained it to me. I think it would be really great if we can trace back old stories about these motifs and return them to Lasem. Most motifs are based on old Chinese tales and sayings, so there must be ways of finding it out. I hope I can meet her again when I return here next time and share ideas on this.
After a very long photoshoot, groupphoto/selfie/together with me, the night came to an end. It was such a warm response and I was so happy I got the chance to share my story here with this amazing audience! Thank you Mr. Pop and the Lasem Heritage Foundation!

The next morning, Mr. Pop was already waiting for me a quarter before 8. Nobody here is early, but he works with foreigners a lot, so I still needed to dry my hair and have breakfast. We headed to the Batikworkshop Lumintu, also just around the corner. A bright blue entrance hide away an amazing Peranakan house. The owner Ibu Eka is third generation of batik entrepreneur, however her parents didn’t run a workshop, but her grandparents did. She returned 4 years ago back to Lasem to take care of her mother and started up the batikworkshop. Not many old pieces got passed on, but Pak Hartono’s book ‘Batik Pesisir turned out to be a welcome source for inspiration.
Lumintu is specialized in high quality Tiga Negeri. Beautiful, but a bit above my price range at the moment. Ibu Eka showed two unfinished pieces, both in blue. One had almost the same kepala as Eliza von Zuylen once made. I needed to have it & was happy Ibu Eka allowed me to buy it!
After this short visit, I headed to Ibu Ramini. There her batikclass was in full progress. Every week a different class of the same local school, SDN Jeruk Kec. Pencur, gets a class in making Batik on Saturdays. At least 25 children were there this day and most ran out to great me with a hand shake {they take your hand and put it on their forehead or nose}. The class was copying their design onto cloth and the one finished with this started the batik making. It was so wonderful to be at this class, I admire Ibu Ramini greatly for putting so much effort in inspiring a new generation of Batikmakers. She explained that from all students, maybe 2 will became batikmakers. So only 2 precent...!
I just sit there, watched and filmed. So great to return here after 3 years. One day I just want to be here and join the batikmakers and learn from Ibu Ramini! For now this afternoon had to do. 

Full class at Ibu Ramini
Me and Ibu Ramini showing one of her beautiful designs

That evening I would share my film one last time on Java. Back to where it started, and back to where I filmed Miss Dwi perform her Tari Batik. Of course the screening was on the same date as I filmed her in 2016 - ancestors must be guiding my way, I have no way of explaining this. So full circle in every way!
Before the screening we went to the beach. I never was there before and it is so beautiful. Me and Ibu Maryati drank a coconut and shared smiles. It was so nice and I feel it is my batikfamily.
At the home we waiting for the batikmakers to arrive. Many snacks were served and when everyone got there, I gave an intro that got translated by Abe and Hanif. Everyone watched the movie full focus. Ibu Maryati asked which makers and where, and everyone enjoyed watching the others. At the end everyone laughed so hard - not like normally because a man is riding through my shot, but because they know this man, hahaha.
The screening was really the cherry on top this journey - Thank you Hanif for helping, thank you Abe for everything, thank you Ibu Maryati fir welcoming me and hosting the screening and special thanks to Miss Dwi, thank you for being part of my journey to Batik!

Salt winning near the sea
With my batikfamily at the beach 
Screening at Ibu Maryati’s home
Together with the batikmakers of Gading Kencana

The next day we had to leave again. At Ibu Maryati’s house I could still watch the pelorodan, the boiling out the wax. Her husband and two of the makers were boiling out the newly made batiks. A nice ending of this visit.
This time was really too short, but even if it was too short, I was so happy to return there.
Lets wish till next 17 October!

Boiling out the wax

*So my report on Lasem got delayed, just like me journey. On my last night on Java, in Jakarta, I eat something my body didn’t approve of and got really sick right away. I had to go to the hospital the next morning and missed my flight to Bangkok. I was literally grounded and I could only continued my journey on Thursday {typing this while getting ready to leave Jakarta}.

** Happy to inform I went to Bangkok on Thursday 24 October, writing this will boarding my plane

October 22, 2019

Friends & Batiks

Display of Batik from Pekalongan at Museum Danar Hadi 
{all photos taken by me with permission by Museum Danar Hadi}
Barbara and me at Duta Garden Hotel

On Monday 14 October I took the train to Solo. There I would meet my friend WienWien, who last time invited me to join her onMadura. I had no time to go there, so I felt so lucky she accompanied me in Solo. Unfortunately she was ill on arrival and I was not fit the next day. Being sick in a hotelroom with WienWien is actually great. We talked and talked like we were just talking last week. I love to have these friends that make me feel at home away from home. They give me good advice, are there for me & all my questions and make my journey so wonderful.
We of course not just went to Solo to be sick, I was allowed to research the Danar Hadi Museum collection for my researchproject. As a first step I was allowed to take photos. You normally aren’t allowed to take pictures and they have a very strict policy. It was like a dream come true. My first visit to the Danar Hadi Museum was in 2009 and it was my first encounter with so called ‘Batik Belanda’. Staring at a Batik with Little Red Riding Hood on it, I could only ask “How?”. I remember the guide laughing and saying: “Of course you like this Batik, it is Dutch Batik”. This moment planted a seed in my mind that keeps giving me fruits today!
Through many contacts I somehow manage to get in touch with Miss Asti Suryo Astuti, the Assistant Manager of the Danar Hadi Museum. She explained me the process and after sharing my project-proposal I was excepted to do research.

Miss Asti guiding us through the houses
Pendhapa’ in original state as when built
The house of Danar Hadi
First Danar Hadi’s logo included Mr. Santono’s wife wearing sunglasses; All kind of goals & coolness going on here!

Asti met me and WienWien in the hotel. After a coffee, she walked us to the museum. Walking into what looked like a back-alley was in fact an alternative entrance to the house of Danar Hadi, which is next to the museum. Me and WienWien were just overwhelmed with the splendor displayed; beautiful buildings attached to each other by verandas and gardens, everywhere amazing furniture, sculptures, Art on the walls and family photos, and all very old! A monument kept in pristine condition.
Asti gave explanations for every room and gave us time to photograph every inch. After the many rooms, many more rooms with Batik were waiting for us.
While filling in a form that allowed me to take pictures, Miss Asti gave me a book. Me thinking she just wanted to show it to me, said to her: “Oh I actually would like to buy this book”. Which gave me her shocked reply in return: “You can not, this is a gift from Mr. Santoso, he can not meet you, but would like to thank you for your interest in his collection”. Oh wauw! The book is 50 years of Danar Hadi history, full amazing photos and their story in Bahasa Indonesia and English. Can wait to read it!
After signing the form, I got a badge and we were welcomed by Mas Gigih, our guide. In really nice English he gave us a tour, he soon noticed he could skip the beginners tour. He shared nice anecdotes about certain pieces and which pieces Mr. Santoso liked & why. Of course Mr. Santoso likes all his Batiks, but he has 10.000 pieces and chooses a certain selection every couple of years to be displayed. Either to inspire people to have a wider view on what is Batik or to share old next to newer pieces to show that high quality can still be found today in Batik.
I was taking many many photos and in between WienWien asked many more Batik questions to our guide Gigih. So happy she enjoyed it so much, not all will have the patience to wait while I look at every Batik and take hundreds of photos.
In 2009 ‘Batik Belanda’ was just a small sign with a few Batiks, now it is an entire room. The display is beautiful, Batiks hanging over wooden frames surrounded by fitting ornaments. The only problem is that you can only see a small part of the Batiks and non of the signatures. In the room are also Batiks attributed to Von Franquemont and Oosterom. One matches one that I saw of the Wereldmuseum collection. Miss Asti explained later during lunch that two collection of Indo-European Batiks had descriptions for every Batik in English, but got mixed up because the English was miss-understood in the beginning of starting up the museum. I hope to request better photos of some pieces in the near future because there are some really interesting ones in his collection. A perfect collection to include in my researchproject and feeling blessed with seeing all these beauties.

Me & WienWien
Our guide Gigih
Where it all Museum Danar Hadi 
{all photos taken by me with permission by Museum Danar Hadi}
Overview at Museum Danar Hadi

After 3 rooms, 3 more rooms (I think) were filled with Batik. Such a big collection and so much variety. From the ‘Vorstenlanden’ to the North-coast, from the big cities and big names, to the smaller regions. Of Rifa’iyah Batik , the batikmakers community in Batang, were many pieces on display - even one very similar to the one I bought for my brother when he got engaged.
I saw so much interesting motifs, patterns, names and locations. I need some time to examine this when I am back home and find a copy of the Danar Hadi collection book ‘The Glory of Batik’. 

A room just for ‘Batik Souvenirs’, gifts to Danar Hadi
Development of Danar Hadi Overview at Museum Danar Hadi 
Overview at Museum Danar Hadi
All photos taken by me with permission by Museum Danar Hadi

After the tour, Miss Asti invited us for lunch. The restaurant at Danar Hadi is called ‘Soga, A Batik Journey Through Dinning’. Every dish is called after a Batik motif. I choose the ‘Gado Gado Semen Sinom’. It was served deconstructed, the carrots were rolled into the cabbage and the sauce served separate. Soooo nice, but my stomach was to upset to eat it all.
After the lunch we exit through the giftshop. I found such a cool Batik Cap blouse for Koen. Many things by Danar Hadi are actually printed nowadays. I wonder how many visitors know this and can see what is printed, made by Cap or Tulis. In the museum every day 5 batikmakers of the many employees Danar Hadi has, make Batik in the museum. Me. Santoso finds it important to share this part of Batik, but I wonder if this is enough for people to totally understand it. I visited these makers in the museum also. I was wearing my canting earrings and the makers actually stopped to admire them. They liked it so much. Cantik, Canting, cantik! I was happy it was very clear I was a big fan of their work!

One of the 5 Batikmakers sharing the Art of Batik to visitors of the museum
Me and Miss Asti, thank you so much for this warm welcome, I hope we can share many more ideas and thoughts on Batik in the near future

Spending the rest of the day in the bed, sorry WienWien for being so boring, the next day we already had to say goodbye. Feeling a lot better in the morning, I said “Till next time” to my friend and felt lucky to be meeting another friend in Yogyakarta. My dear sister, muse and BFF Barbara! For one night only we met around the corner of the street we spend one week together in 2009. The birth of our friendship was here and to have a reunion there was the best gift ever. Barbara had chooses this gorgeous hotel with an amazing garden. We walked around and got lost, just to go to a place we eat before. We eat fries and falafel and drank a bright red Kraton tea. Surprisingly strong stuff, we both felt dizzy and laughed about how silly it was to feel so strange from a tea. Walking back to our room we entered some shops & bought bottles of drinks and bags of coffees as if we had many hours to spend. We stayed up talking until our eyes couldn’t stay open. The next morning we talk some more, actually all the way till the airport. Hanif and Abe who I drove to Lasem with, gave Barbara a lift to the airport. Happy to share every extra minute. Oh I going to miss you so much! One night was to short, yet such a big gift! Dankjewel lieve schat! Ik zie u graag en ik zie jou gauw!

Next post will be on my return to Lasem!

Barbara and me, photoshoot at Duta Garden Hotel

October 19, 2019

Searching for Von Franquemont

Parts of a Sugar factory in Kaliwungu
Posing in Old Town, Kota Lama in Semarang

These last days I spend tracing Caroline Josephina von Franquemont footsteps. This mysterious Batik entrepreneur has been on my mind for the last 3 years, ever since my previous ‘journey to Batik’. Not sure what I would be able to find, much has changed since 1867 of course, I still felt I needed to explore locations in the Semarang region. To know what is still here, what people maybe know and how to continue with re-telling this story.

Sugar factory owner’s house

My friend Denny Antyo Hartanto joined me here to help me film the location and also drive. We could stay at the former gallery Rumah Seni Yaitu and were welcomed by Aris. Last time me and Aris did some sight seeing in Semarang and he was happy to join us on the adventure on Saturday and Sunday.
On Friday 11 October first destination was what is left over of sugar-factory owned by the family of Von Franquemont. Some sources say her workshop was located near or on the land of this factory. I “walked” the area on Google maps many times and was so excited when I found a structure matching old photos I found of the factory. The factory was in use for a long time. It was used as a base during the Indonesian War and later got demolished by Indonesians. So I was surprised to find still something of it.
Not knowing what was left now, we headed for the location saved on my map. I spotted the building on my left, next to an empty field with a fair. We parked and walked around a bit to explore. Behind the small structure two more buildings turned out to be intact. An old European style house and a long big warehouse. A man stopped on his bicycle on his way from Friday prayer. He told Denny, I was inside of the European house, that this all was part of an Sugar-factory. The little building at the beginning was a check-point, the big warehouse was for storage and still used now to store rice and the European house was of the owner of the Sugar-factory. He also confirmed it was demolished after the war by Indonesians. So his story matched what I found so far and I had two extra buildings to document!

Jati, teak trees
Filming at a ricefield

Next up was an old house that was part of a tea plantation, later bought by the family of Von Franquemont on the Northwest side of Mount Ungeran. I couldn’t find if it was still there, but found a possible location and wanted to drive there to check. On the way we stopped for Gado gado. We passed many jati trees, teak plantations. They lose their leaves in Summer so it looks like an Autumn forest. Between the trees, I spotted some lost tea bushes. We didn’t find the house, but we had a great view of a ricefield and filmed there instead.
Last spot for the day was the entrance of a Batik kampoeng on the North side of Mount Ungaran. I was there before in 2016 and I was wondering if this location might be connected to the former Batikworkshop of Miss Von Franquemont. No one knows and maybe just coincidence new Batikworkshops started up there, but wanted to include some shots of the new entrance they were making last time I was there.
The finished entrance is nice, but even more beautiful was the traditional graveyard next to it.
Still hoping I find the grave of my Batikmaker. We asked everywhere if in this region, Ungaran or Semarang, people know old Dutch graves - nothing yet, so if you read this and have an idea, let me know!

Graveyard on Mount Ungaran
Candi Gedong Songo

For our second day Candi Gedong Songo, a group of Hindi Temples from the 8th or 9th century, was our destination. I only went to two temples before, Borobudur and Prambanan, both in 2009 and both with Denny. So very fitting to visit my third temple with him again. The reason to visit was that in a book from 1915 mentions that the family of Von Franquemont, and other who owned the land before them, revealed the structures by cutting down trees for their sugar, tea and coffee plantations on the East side of Mount Ungeran. How much is true of this I don’t know, but I was curious if the structure maybe matched in designs with Batiks attributed to Von Franquemont.
Aris joined us as our navigator. The road towards the temples was very different then the route we took Friday. Hotel after hotel, flower-shop after flower-shop { technically they are plant-stores, but they refer to them as flower shop } and selfie-park after selfie park. The selfie-park thing is a new development. Yes, many who travelled here will now the “Mister, mister, selfie?” phenomenon, but an actual theme-park with different backdrops to take selfies in is a new one for me.
The location of temples is also turned into a park, with around the temples nicely created landscaping and even a selfie area. It made me wonder how it once was. Was it a thick forest, or was it kept open when the temples were still in use?
The structures are located on different spots on the flank of the Mountain. The first temple was pretty crowded and Aris explained there are 5 locations in total and it was a bit of a walk. I thought it best to walk to the last one first and then make our way down filming the temples one by one. We walked the path up used for the horseback riding. People can be taken up by horse, which I find scary and sad for the horses actually. The road was super steep. Nice surprise, we came across rows of red roses in bloom. A motif attributed to Von Franquemont is actually roses!

Roses on Mount Ungaran
Ganesha at Candi Gedong Songo

Arriving at the third location in the heat and after some much needed breaks, Denny gave up.
Aris was ready to continue and I thought, well why not, I will regret it if I don’t try. The road took us on a little detour and we had to stop every few minutes to let people on horses pass.
When we made it to the last location, we were the only two there and we heard bird sing and nothing else. This was only short, the afternoon prayer started and huge group came up, but we had this short magical moment. The last location is what give this temple it’s name ‘Songo’. ‘Songo’ is seven in Javanese and seven small temples were build. All but one turned into a pile of rocks, but the one that still stands has a beautiful Ganesha on it.
We went from location V to IV, and back to III where Denny was making a time-lapse.
Burned my neck and nose, but happy I made it all the way up!
On our way down I bought a plant with Aris, or flower, we had a whole discussion about it. Because we use flower for cut-flowers, a bouquet, and plant when it is in a pot. Besides most plants I see here are what we buy as houseplants and never bloom. We planted our flower-plant the next day in the front-lawn.

Inside Benteng Willem II in Ungaran

Next stop was Benteng Willem II in Ungaran, a late 18th-century Dutch-built fort. It was constructed to guard a trade route in central Java. The fort is the place where Prince Diponegoro was imprisoned while waiting for his judgment in Batavia and further exile to Makassar. (Source: Wikipedia)
The Fort is rather empty with just some plaques of the building, prince and baron. We walked one by one around on the building and drank coffee. A strange empty feeling this building has.
Before the Sunset we had one more place we needed to go. Doing my research, I stumbled upon this haunted house. The building called ‘Gedung Kuning’, Yellow house, is far removed from it’s former glory. The roof is collapse, it seems like there was on fire and everyone is afraid of it. On the side still completely in tact the so depressing text “Ende desespereert nimmer”, “And Never Despair”. If you put that on your house, pfff, things weren’t going well at all. I still have to figure out who lived here, but the building is owned by the local railway company.
We walked around it, looking at the still visible ornaments while kids practiced football on the what was once the front-lawn entrance I would presume.
Before the Sun was totally gone, we quickly left this creepy building.

Gedung Kuning, Yellow house
“And Never Despair”

For the last day of my filming adventure in Semarang region we stayed in Kota Lama, the Old Town. We started at the ‘Spiegel’. An old warehouse turned into a bistro. Across they were fixing up the ‘Weeskamer’. Many Dutch things in just a few blocks. We went around the corner, away from all the selfie making people to wonder around in the not renovated part. It was extremely hot, around 40 degrees so it was hard work to just film a little. My phones and me needed a break after two streets. The building seem more Mediterranean then typical Dutch. Some pointed roofs, but more balconies and big wooden shutters for the windows.
I wanted to see the Syahbandar Tower, an old fragment of the VOC, but it was completely shut off. Still happy we went there, because to my surprise the street-name matched a warehouse in the name of the Von Franquemont family. I looked for it online and on maps, not finding anything. Now I just walked there and spotted the name. No building, but at least now I can look at old photos of this area and see if I find something more.

In Kota Lama in Semarang

After the hot hot city we went for another ghost-building, the building with a thousand doors, Lawang Sewu. It was built as the headquarters of the Dutch East Indies Railway Company, started in 1904 and finished in 1919. This building is so big, it puzzles me why they needed all this space. It would have been terrible to go from one side to the other. I wonder if anyone got any work done.
I was here before in 2016. In 2009 I was also invited to go see ghosts, and I declined. I made Aris take me during the day last time. We only encountered bats at the attic, nothing else. The building was renovated in 2011 and kinda regret not seeing how it was then.
The main attraction of the building are these huge stain-glassed windows. People wait in line to take selfies on the stairs using the windows as a backdrop.
The building is not related to the Von Franquemont story, yet everything in this region is.
It was three good days of exploring and seeing traces of this colonial past. I haven’t found my batikmaker, but can imagine the past a little better. For it was also good to see how these dark pages of history are handled. Most are nothing more then a backdrop, but happy Indonesian youth just use them as a good Insta-frame.

Lawang Sewu