August 19, 2019

Ways of promoting Batik

Photo I made in 2009, of a huge (former) Batik pasar in Pekalongan 
were we only found printed textiles

“Batik is more than just patterns and designs on material, although that is part of it. Batik making is actually a process; it is an art and it is our national and cultural heritage.”

He {Malaysian Craft Council president Nik Mohd Faiz Nik M. Amin} added that batik needs to be made accessible to all, especially today’s younger generation.

“Although machine-printed batik might not be considered actual batik, which is handpainted, it is a start to reach out to the younger generation because it is cheaper and more accessible,” he said.

This is part of article published in May on the Malaysian quest to promote traditional wear and therefor Batik. The idea was that more Batik would be bought eventually when you promote printed textiles. These printed textiles would be easily available to a younger generation and will make them eventually fall in love with Batik and buy actual Batik...
By promoting printed textiles, you are just promoting fast fashion and even create more distance between investing in an actual piece of heritage. When I responded this on Facebook were the article was shared and that this is not helping Batik in any way, I was told not be a gatekeeper and that handmade Batik was not part of the future...That I needed to embrace new developments...
Several months later and I am still totally bugged out by this and in the mean time only more people thought they could promote heritage by using printed textiles. 

I am seeing important 'kwartiermakers' or influencers making the choice of promoting clothing that is neither original, nor sustainable, under the flag of shared heritage & being in touch with your roots. They use all the right keywords, as mentioned in the sentence above, but aren't actually making a product that is helping anyone else then themselves. This in the process brings down the value of brands that actually try to incorporate all these factors and try to actually grow and learn. 
Words can lose value and also alter meanings. We should stop using terms as 'celebrating {my Indonesian} roots', 'exclusively produced', 'sustainable', 'embracing culture heritage', 'real/authentic {Indonesian} textiles', if the products aren't! 
Some new brands recently launched using this terminology actually are selling fast fashion tracksuit, shirts, skirts or robes. Which are neither there nor here considered valuable. This value is added by the one using these words and the people who buy into it!

At the same time, I get the gatekeeper remark. How do you promote, help and maybe even restore something, that is of much culture value, if it is not necessarily your culture and if it is not your own livelihood. There is the danger of speaking up for a group that is totally able of speaking up for themselves. There is the danger of assuming what makers struggle with, what aspects of the heritage make it difficult to progress to the future and what elements endanger it. 
I really don't know what is the right way and if for an outsider it is even possible to do right. 
Saying this, at the same time it can be so frustrating to know what totally endangers a heritage and see it happening all over in the name of actually preserving it. Yes, I am talking about buying & selling printed textiles/'Batik Print'/textiles with batikmotifs on it. On all fronts it will be beter to stop doing this. And yes, it will be difficult, because we tend to gravitate to choices making (us) money and not necessarily improving anything for anyone, but let's try! 

A development on Batik I did get excited about is this new App:

The Ministry of Industry introduced Batik Analyzer, a smartphone application, during this year's Nusantara Batik Exhibition in Jakarta on Friday. The app is available for Android and iOS smartphone operating systems and uses artificial intelligence, which right now, can differentiate the original from a counterfeit item about 75 percent of the time, said Titik Purwati Widowati, head of the Yogyakarta Center for Crafts and Batik.

This article, also from May, shared a different approach on how to promote Batik. An app is in development that would be able to detect if a textile is actually a Batik or a fake. The Batik Analyzer was in May only 75% accurate and the Balai Batik Center hopes to get it at 90%. 
A fun app, which will definitely reach a younger audience. It will invite people to investigate, explore this heritage. Will make people ask questions, even more importantly the right ones. Because if you don't make people aware of the fact that a printed textile is not and will not be the same as a Batik, they can not make the choice of supporting it. Can't wait to try out the App myself! 

The differences between these two plans to promote Batik, couldn't have been bigger and it is also very clear which one could actually work. 
I was called as a 'batikactivist' after my 'Batik Stand, a Stand for Batik' project at the Tong Tong Fair. A title I really liked and found flattering, still I stick to 'batikblogger' for now. But yes, it can be consider as a kind of activisme and I think Batik totally deserves fighting for. Are you with me?
Share your thoughts with me and feel free to share any questions or idea you have regarding Batik (or other cultural textiles) and how to insure this heritage future!

[I know I keep it vague, not naming names of the brands. This I do, because I haven't talked to them personally. I would like to, but the products are already out there, so not much can be be done about that, yet I would love it if they consider some re-framing.
At the same time, if you read this and think, hey wait a minute, that's my shirt/skirt/tracksuit, she is writing about; Please feel free to contact me, I hereby offer you a short, free lecture on what is real Batik and why you should totally use & promote it ;)]

To read more:

Mentioned the article 'Join the ‘Wear Malaysian batik’ revolution' already in this post on 'Dior and their new 'African inspired' collection'

Previous post on 'Is Batik Fair?'

2 comments: said...

Dear Sabine,

What a brilliant piece of writing, thank you! Your argument and conclusions are so well drawn and have cultural parallels across centuries.

One needs to go no further then to become aware of, the extraordinary work that has been undertaken from their Ubud, Bali base, THREADS OF LIFE [www.threads of], who I am sure you know well. This organisation is an exemplar of what can be achieved to preserve cultural identity, pride and importantly alleviate poverty in rural Indonesia. I believe they are now working directly with well in excess of a 1,000 women weavers, batikkers, etc, across Indonesia [www.threads of]. Empowering women to build sustainable futures, Threads of Life is a fair trade gallery that utilises culture and conservation to alleviate poverty in rural Indonesia. An wonderful model of operation built with great patience by an amazing couple, Terry & Jean, and their highly trained and dedicated staff travel across the Archipelago, building and rebuilding lost skills, knowledge, etc............sustainability and independence.

I have some wonderful news I wish to share with you.............having read every post you have made I feel I know you well, especially your batik and study world. If my memory is correct we first discussed a Pekalongan batik, “Little Red Riding Hood”, that I had posted on, what was then, my new blog []. Sadly, extremely poor health has prevented me posting for so many years, 2013 I think. But that is where the good news now begins!!!!!!!! After nearly 35 years post a car accident, 13 surgeries to my neck and head, loss of my career, etc, etc, and living especially the past 15 - 20 years with crippling chronic pain, I have just returned from hospital a new man, so to speak. A NEW neurologist and two NEW physicians have discovered that the trauma the impact of the accident bought on severe and crippling migraines. I have not had pain for 14 days now so Ian and I feel strongly that after this horrendous past, we now have Life 2 to begin. An essential part of this will be without fail, returning to Java and Bali and in time, other locations we haven’t reached because of my health.

I really hope your art work continues to thrive and I must say, I enjoy every word of your writing. When were you last in Java?

Please keep extremely well and only my very best always, Greg.

Sabine Bolk said...

Dear Greg,

Thank you so much for your comment and feedback! Happy to hear from you & to connect again.
I feel very honoured you kept reading my blog, it is such a compliment, words fail me to express, but it really really means the world to me.

My plans were to go to Bali last year and finally visit Threads of Life, hopefully it can happen in the near future. Their work is really inspiring.
I was luckily on Java in 2019, so it is not that long ago, but cannot wait to return and see everyone again.

Very happy to learn of your recovery and hope we can stay in touch until maybe hanging out on Java, that would be amazing :))

Warm wishes, semoga sehat dan bahagia,