October 27, 2023

Building the future of Batik

Group selfie right before the opening

Anna Silooy, Erasmus Huis, me and Lambert Grijns, Dutch ambassador
Almost it has become a tradition, writing while being in Jakarta traffic. Till now I made all my appointments, being late just a little, so that is not too bad. But very happy I get to escape this weekend and let all the impressions sink in a little bit. This past two weeks have been very stressful and a dream all wrapped up into one. Making an exhibition is always a lot of work and making it from abroad with 5 hours time difference gave me restless nights. But I did, we did it, and not just did it, it was finished a day before the opening! Apparently it never happened according to the technical team at Erasmus Huis.

So actually since 2021 this exhibition, Masa depan Batik | Future of Batik’ has been in the making. After I was invited by artist Shishani to join their amazing project ‘Shishani & Sisterhood’, Erasmus Huis reached out to do an online zoom on Batik. For the Jakarta Fashion week in 2021, me and two other speakers were invited to talk about Batik with the topic ‘Future of Batik’. Me and Erasmus Huis director Yolande Melsert came up with the title when talking about if batik could be sustainable. As a host we got Tony of aNERDgallery. I asked if we could get pembatiks involved, since I think we cannot talk about batik without including the makers. I got some budget to invite pembatiks to record a short statement and include subtitles. This was were the seed was planted for my current exhibition. The short statements by Ibu Ramini, Mbak Nurul, Ibu Widianti and Mbak Dwi were very divers, yet with the same passion and drive. Batik had to be part of the future, but how? Since there are so many difficulties. 
After the talk, I was invited by Erasmus Huis to make the exhibition. I was free to fill it as I wanted and me wanting to involve the pembatiks with their own work was welcomed completely.
The pandemic made it of course difficult to prepare anything until everything opened up again a little bit. So last year, 2022, I did most preparations, go talk with everyone, invite the pembatiks to make new work and interview them. I spend two months traveling around, meeting and re-meeting. The report blogs you can read back >> here 
The last couple of months have been filled with planning, organizing {not just getting me there, but also the 6 pembatiks and their family for the opening}, finishing works and editing videos, while still having much to do in the Netherlands also. 
I had some moments of panic, but I was also happy to know that in Indonesia even if things are very last minute, it can still be done. Where in Europe we need much more time ahead. Which makes it also weird if people ask how things are going and basically I had nothing to share yet. 

Which blue we need for the walls, screenshot from video

Sewing the work 'Good living | Tiga Negeri' at home

Start of build-up at Erasmus Huis

On 2 October finally my exhibition was announced with a short video I made in which the pembatiks & me introduce ourselves.
On 13 October I left for Jakarta. My bag filled with batiks for the exhibition, a harddisk with all the videos and a brand new outfit by Mirk Fair Fashion. The technical team, Mas Denny, Mas Gideon and Mas Andri, normally consisting of four with support of anyone who lends a hand, started the build up in the week I arrived. I got unwrapping videos of the batiks that arrived from the pembatiks and videos of which wall need to be what colour. Everything was painted a very dark grey for the exhibition before me. I didn’t want to keep it, but just white seemed boring too. Anna of Erasmus Huis said, just do a colour on some of the walls. Of course I knew which colour it had to be, the tosca that decorates many houses here, the Lasem blue, one of my favorite colours. After back and forth messages & videos, I picked ‘Poolside’ hoping it was the right colour. 
So when I arrive of 14 October the walls were painted in my requested Tosca, which was exactly right, the frames got delivered and the dye lab table was standing. All the rest we still had to do. After finalizing more details on how things had to hang and could hang, slowly the space got turned into my exhibition.
It was so amazing to see everything I thought out on paper actually worked great in the space. I mean I work in the cultural scene for a long time and made many exhibitions, of my work and that of others. But I would always be able to just walk into the space and check. So not to brag, but I am still really amazed I can do that.
The last work we hung is also the biggest work. Three pieces I already sew together in the Netherlands. The last Batik was being dyed by Ibu Siti, so I picked it up on Saturday at Erasmus Huis. On Monday I spend 4 hours mending and sewing it together by hand. On Friday evening we hung it as a group afford. It was the greatest thing seeing it a come together and finished!

Sewing 'Good living | Tiga Negeri' in my hotel room by hand

Installing 'Good living | Tiga Negeri'

On Friday also my batik family from Lasem and Batang arrived. In the morning we were all having breakfast together at the hotel. Right away the pembatiks were introducing themselves, chatting with eachother. It felt like we created a little batik conference. 

In the afternoon of 21 October I finished the last details at Erasmus Huis with Nidi Kusmaya, who is a rockstar with 2 other exhibitions at the same time in Jakarta, while the pembatiks went sightseeing. Nidi prepared the Natural dye lab in the days prier. Stunning how she can make form and function look so organized and photogenic at the same time. We will work on the other colours from the old recipe book while the exhibition continues and update it on site.

Nidi Kusmaya documenting the Natural Dye Lab

At 16h everyone arrived at Erasmus  Huis and the pembatiks got to finally see their work on display.
In the library of Erasmus Huis we all ate together with Erasmus Huis. The batik books were looked in, pembatiks got interviewed by different media and shared stories together. Ibu Siti brought an overview of her dye experiments, and Ibu Ramini told me she wanted to learn from her and I should arrange it. Siappp, I will!

At 19.30h the grand opening started. Jaef de Boer of Erasmus Huis welcomed everyone. So nice to see so many familiar faces and dear friends, coming from nearby and far away. The Dutch ambassador Lambert Grijns gave a great speech. He actually loves batik and was wearing a custom batik shirt with our Dutch national bird, Grutto {Black-tailed godwit / Biru-laut ekor-hitam}, on it. The warm welcome to the pembatiks and their family was so amazing and I was so happy I got to sit frontrow with them.
Jaef interviewed me shortly with some nice questions on the start of my journey and what my goal for this exhibition is. Difficult to answer, but when I see how people react to it, I feel the goal is already reached. My wish of bringing batik to the future, is already being achieved by having these interaction with the pembatiks, artists, researchers, audience and vistors. They’re the ones bringing batik further with them, celebrating Batik together.

Opening speech on 21 October by Jaef de Boer of Erasmus Huis

Mbak Nurul had the honour of officially opening the exhibition with the gong

I got to express my gratitude as well. And want to repeat it here, although I improvised it on the spot. In my exhibition I got to reflect on 14 years of my journey of Batik and 14 years since it became Unesco heritage. At first I thought, what a pity it isn’t 15 years, but two times 7 years is actually a much nicer symbolic number. When I said this, I saw someone nodding in agreement in the audience. 
I want to thank again the pembatiks; Mak Sium, Mbak Eka, Mbak Nurul, Ibu Siti, Ibu Ramini and Ibu Widianti, who could unfortunately not be there for the opening. Without them my journey and this exhibition would not be possible and I am so thankful for them and their families support. 
I am thankful for Erasmus Huis, for all the help from Yolande, Anna, Jaef, Oxalis, the technical team and everyone else there making me feel welcome.
I wanted to thank my love, Koen, who had to miss the opening, but was very much involved in the making of this exhibition, and is my biggest supporter. 
Thankful for my family, for my grandparents who introduce me to the wonderful crafts of Indonesia and brought me on this path to Batik.
I also want to thank my batik mentors, luckily some where in the audience, like Pak William Kwan, John Ang and Pak Hartono. 
Thank you!

Go visit ‘Masa depan Batik | Future of Batik’, 
on display at Erasmus Huis in Jakarta (Indonesia) until 20 January 2024. 
Open on Tuesday till Saturday from 10am till 16pm.

Nidia Kusmaya, Siti and her children, Nurul and her sister, Ibu of Yullia, Ibu Ramini and her sister, Mas Karim, me, Mak Sium and her son-in-law, Mbak Eka and Tasya

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