Batiks hanging to dry at Batikworkshop owned by Wan Azhar,
Thunder when driving to Terengganu
Batikmakers at Batikworkshop Kamis
Fellow Batik researchers/travellers/nerds Maryam & Tony
at Terengganu State Museum
Because we departed a day later than planned, we spend one night in Kuala Lumpur before traveling on to Terengganu. So me and Tony first took a bus to KL, a pretty long ride which allow me to write my previous post 'Holding Batik closer to our heart'.
The next morning Maryam Shamsuddin picked us up to drive together to the other side of Malaysia, to Terengganu to meet the batikmakers there. Maryam has been following, studying and supporting the Malaysian batik and its makers in this region since 2014. It started as a fashion brand assignment and continues till this day as a full passion. So three Batik researchers/super fans/nerds going on a Batik field trip! We asked Maryam so many questions along the way, she gladly answered.
Batik in Malaysia is mostly done by men and in Terengganu only by men. They make Batik Cap which is called Batik Terap or Batik Blok in Malaysia. We got to find out there are much more differences and found a, for me, new technique, discharge. Which apparently is also used on Java.
Batik was, same as on Java, on the brink. More than getting makers out of poverty was all that could be done basically. Sadly the pandemic brought most efforts back to zero or worse, since batikmakers had to find other work and haven’t return to workshops still.
During our long drive, which Maryam makes monthly, we saw mainly oil palm. Row, row and rows of it. Apparently this the oil palm is not just used for palm oil, which most products in Europe are made with, but it is also used as a “green fuel”. A complex struggle between needing the income, needing to bring down CO2, while loosing nature and the connection to it.
Happy when the endless rows of palms made way for some more forest like hills and also very bad weather.
After our arrival we soon made are way to a cultural festival, Langkasuka Cultural Festival, being held in a local mall. This mall, the buildings around it and a flat were build were the former creative kampong was filled with batikmakers and musicians. Under the flag of ‘development’ the people of neighbourhood were relocated in this flat. Most batikmakers stopped working, some found work at the left over batikworkshops elsewhere in the region.
At the festival we met met Zakaria Ali Bin Ismail displaying his Cap/Block/Terap making skills at the mall. Maryam works with Pok Ya, the name he is better know under, creating blocks for her own and other brands.
The next morning we met Pok Ya for breakfast. While Maryam & Tony were making their choice, we chatted a little in Bahasa Indonesia, since he mastered the Art of the Cap making in Indonesia. As most makers did.
Batiks was before it was made locally imported from Java. And the first Malay batiks were actually not made with wax resist, but printed with colour blocks.
‘In Malaysia the meaning of batik is much larger than a simple definition of the physical batik process. For most Malaysians batik connotes certain design characteristics and particular motifs.
The process is secondary.’
Maryam brought a bag of books on Malaysian batiks, so wonderful & as the book lover I am, I scanned read them all. In the book ‘Malaysian batik: Creating new traditions’ from 1987 was the explanation above.
Pok Ya, the last blok/terap/cap maker of Terengganu
Pok Ya's workshop at home
Back to Pok Ya, he started learning from age 22 on Java, traveling to places like Solo and Cirebon. He since then adapted the blocks, as they are called here, into a lighter weight, yet bigger shape, easier to repair, with a more open design.
After breakfast we got invited to his apartment, which is located on the ground were the former, flourishing creative kampong was. The kampong was also next to sea were Pok Ya gave workshops at the beach. The seafront got turned into a road in the early 2000’s. A final blow to this batik location.
Pok Ya operates from this flat, having a tiny workshop in his home and when he does the wax process, he uses the empty hallway.
All the batikworkshop we visited next worked with blocks made by Pok Ya. He had students in the past, but their often less quality made block got send still to him for repairs.
Pok Ya is almost 70, a Master in his field, yet the last one standing.
After our visit to Pok Ya, we headed to the local textile market, temporarily housed in Pasar Kedai Payang. The market is filled with tiny stores, filled with piles of textiles. They actually sell real Batik there, but one need to know how to navigate. Maryam pointed out which were real and which were fake printed ones.
Since I am not know with Malaysian Batik yet, for me it was surprising to see how different the batiks designs, colours and effects are. Batiks are next to wax resist with cap, decorated with marbling. A technique used to dye textiles and paper (used back in the day for the insight of a bookcover) known under names like ‘Suminagashi’, floating ink, in Japan, and in Turkey as ‘Ebru’. As the discharge technique, the marbling gives a unfamiliar layer to the Batiks for me. The effect can be quite busy, but also stunning. I brought one example for my collection at home.
While on Java print will be sold next to Cap or Tulis also, on the pasar in Terengganu it was not made a secret which was which. The real batik was on separate piles and had a higher prices, twice sometimes of the fake ones. Still it is of course sad so many mass produced items are sold, next to handmade pieces. Especially considering the shape the local Batik market is in…
Batiks made with wax resist Batik Cap/Terap & marbling
Printed textiles next to Batik Terap and machine woven checkered fabric
Maryam explaining the difference and the frustration
of seeing some many printed textiles at Pasar Kedai Payang
Miss Ain hand-dyeing the Batiks at Batikworkshop Kamis
After the market we made our way to the Batikworkshop Kamis, named after its owner Kamis. Here we got to see the full making process. I saw some photos before of the workshops in Malaysia, but seeing it with my own eyes was enlightening.
The first space we entered had the batik cloths stretched out between wooden frames. Mas Lokman and Miss Ain were dyeing the cloth with a big sponge. I knew here ‘colet’ was done, handpainting in the colours, here called ‘conteng’, but also the larger parts are done by hand. And seem to be considered better than a colourbath. The stretched fabric can have a length between 2 and 4 meters, in the past longer even, but that seems no longer to be done. They make either kains/ sarongs or kaftans. Especially kaftans seemed to be popular in the mall. The batik is locally only worn at home and not turned inti clothing. Brands in Kuala Lumpur do produce here to turn it into fashion.
In another building the terap was being done. Bapak Kamir, Cik and Hogan were working their rhythmic magic placing the blok with ease in repeating patterns.
There were also batiks being boiled out and hang to dry. A active morning for one of the bigger workshops here. Made a reel on my instagram of the making process, check it out here!
After the tour, we got to shop some freshly dried Batiks. The colours are really stunning at Kamis, many purples which I love and the designs are mostly repeating graphic patterns.
Bapak Kamir at Batikworkshop Kamis
Batiks after 'lorod', boiling out, here called 'rebus'
Hanging to try
In the last chapter of also the book ‘Malaysian batik: Creating new traditions':
Sherry Ortner categorizes symbols on a continuum ranging from "summarizing" to "elaborating” (On Key Symbols, 1973). Summarizing symbols synthesize the entire system, representing the system as a whole. A nation's flag is an example of this type of symbol. While a flag, a uniform, or the national emblem are recognized as national symbols, national symbols need not be specially created objects reserved for ceremonial use; they can also be "nouns and verbs" ', utilitarian objects, abstract concepts, and events. Thus, the concept of national culture can be a symbol in itself which guides people's actions and helps legitimize their activities in modern Malaysia. Batik as a craft and as a costume can be considered a symbol of the nation in this summarizing way.
Batik patterned outfits in China Town, Terengganu
Entrance of Terengganu State Museum
Our next stop was the local museum, Terengganu State Museum. A huge place, consisting of huge building that are beautiful, but surprisingly empty. We never the less enjoyed the textiles being display fully. Lovely pieces, showing early batik imitations, the other stunning Malaysian textiles and the technique. Little info with the pieces however. No dates, location, provenance, only name of the motifs.
Outside the museum buildings is a little open air museum with palaces from the past. These wooden houses on poles are sooo sooo stunning, and very cool inside (as in not hot).
In Terengganu are many houses from wood on poles still and I am so in love with them. Painted in bright colours; aqua, lilac, blues and yellow. Looking like a perfect place to live with chicken walking underneath the house.
Textile display 'Batik Blok', colour block printed textiles
at Terengganu State Museum
Silkscreen printed textile
at Terengganu State Museum
Palace at Terengganu State Museum
In the evening we returned to the mall to meet Batikartist Razak again. We fell the first evening for the Batik banners he made displaying local traditions. The batikpainting he was working on, was finished, showing a local tale of a warrior princess.
Tony will bring work by Razak to aNERDgallery in Singapore soon!
Batikartist Razak with one of his banners
on which the Art of Batik making is depicted
Detail of the work made by Batikartist Razak
On our second day we visited the Batikworkshop owned by Wan Azhar. Up on arrival we only encounter one employe still handeling the cap, En Fuad, and one taking care of the wax, Awang. All others went off to fish, which is not unusual here, most batikmakers are actually also fishermen. Actually fishing pays better than making Batik, but you cannot always fish or make batik, so the combination works great.
At Batikworkshop Wan Azhar we encounter the discharge technique, new for me, but used from the 1990’s according to Maryam, maybe earlier. I also heard it was/is used on Java. I never saw it before or realized it was made with wax resist since it is batik in reverse. The cloth is fully dyed first, then stamped with wax. In a bleaching agent the colour is removed again, keeping only the colour under the wax lines. It seems to be much afford, but the effect is pretty stunning and unique. Not the most sustainable way to make Batik, using bleach and something called ‘ACL China’. It is done because here the to fully cover the cloth with wax seems like a waste, while on fact the wax can be re-used. Curious to find out more about it.
Bapak En Fuad working on Batik discharge
Batik discharge hanging to dry
Workshops is at the waterfront
Mbak Fidah folding the sarongs
There were many bright coloured batik sarongs hanging to dry and when we went to the shop, we were told we could “pick from the washing line” since there was little stock. Batikworkshops here carry little stock, most is done pre-order for resellers or brands. Or it goes to the local textile market Pasar Kedai Payang.
Picking from the washing line we felt like kids in a candy store we couldn’t believe our luck.
Back in the shop Mbak Fidah showed us the Art of folding. My own performance for Shishani and Sisterhood(link) came back to mind. Here the folding is done with the help of a wooden instrument, which allows to fold the batik nice and tight. It was so lovely to see this last step, the folding with so much care, before the batiks leaves the workshop to a new home.
On Wednesday after visiting one more workshop and a local store before we made our way back to KL were I finally got to see John Ang and his amazing exhibition ‘Splendours of Malay World Textiles’.
Stay tunes for more on that!
Shop in China Town