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Batik Essay, Research Paper

Johari Rahim

Javanese Batik

One of the major art forms in Southeast Asia is a type of dyed cloth called batik. The word batik is thought to be derived from the word ambatik which means a cloth with little dots in Indonesian. The suffix tik means little dot, drop, point or to make dots. Batik may also originate from the Javanese (a dialect of Indonesian native to the island of Java) word tritik which describes a resist process for dying where the patterns are reserved on the textiles by tying and sewing areas prior to dying, similar to tie dye techniques implemented in western textile design.

Although experts disagree about the origins of batik, samples of dye resistance patterns on cloth can be traced back 1,500 years ago to Egypt and the Middle East. Samples have also been found in Turkey, India, China, Japan and West Africa from past centuries. Although in these countries people were using the technique of dye resisting decoration on cloth, none have developed batik to the art form that is highly developed on the island of Java in Indonesia.

Although there is mention of fabrics highly decorated in Dutch transcripts from the 17th century, most scholars believe that the intricate Javanese batik designs would only have been possible after the importation of finely woven imported cloth, which was first imported to Indonesia from India around the 1800s and afterwards from Europe beginning in 1815. This finely woven cloth allowed for the intricate patterns that developed on the island of Java. Textile patterns can be seen on stone statues that are carved on the walls of ancient Javanese temples, however there is no conclusive evidence that the cloth is batik. It could possibly be a pattern that was produced weaving techniques and not dying. Nonetheless, these traditional woven patterns influenced the styles that are prevalent in the region.

Some experts feel that batik was originally reserved as an art form for Javanese royalty. Princesses and noble women may have provided the inspiration for the highly refined traditional patterns. It is highly unlikely though that they would be involved in any more than the first wax application. Most likely, the messy work of dyeing and subsequent waxings was left to court artisans who would work under their supervision.

Javanese royalty were known to be great patrons of the arts and provided the support necessary to develop many art forms, such as silver ornamentation, wayang kulit (leather puppets) and gamelan orchestras. In some cases the art forms overlap. The Javanese dalang (puppeteer) not only was responsible for the wayang puppets but was also an important source of batik patterns. Wayang puppets are usually made of goat skin, which is then perforated and painted to create the illusion of clothing on the puppet. These puppets were assembled with moving arms and sometimes mouths. These parts were controlled by bamboo sticks that are handled from below the puppet. A pupeteer then would perform a show with the puppets behind a cloth screen, illuminated from behind the puppet by a lamp. Used puppets were often sold to eager ladies who used the puppets as guides for their batik patterns. They would blow charcoal through the holes that define the patterns of clothing on the puppets, in order to copy the intricate designs onto the cloth.

The population of western Indonesia is predominantly Muslim. Islamic art forbids the representation of natural elements, and is predominantly based on geometric patterns. These patterns translated well into the styles and methods of batik production. Influence from chinese art, imported by immigrants moving south from china, introduced flower patterns as well as figurative and animistic features which influenced the batik styles of the region.

Batik is made through a process of applying a wax resist and then dying the cloth. Intricate colors and patterns are achieved by repeated waxing and dyeing of the cloth. Different kinds and qualities of wax are used in batik. Common waxes used for batik consist of a mixture of beeswax, used for its malleability, and paraffin, used for its friability. Resins can be added to increase adhesiveness and animal fats create greater liquidity. The best waxes are from the Indonesian islands of Timor, Sumbawa and Sumatra; three types of petroleum-based paraffin (white, yellow and black) are used. The amounts mixed are measured in grams and vary according to the design Wax recipes can be very closely guarded secrets. Varying colors of wax make it possible to disguise different parts of the pattern through the various dying stages. Larger areas of the pattern are filled in with wax that is cheaper quality and the higher quality wax is used on the more intricately detailed sections of the design.

Traditionally, wax is applied to the cloth using a canting (pronounced janting). A canting is a tool with small spout that protrudes downwards copper attached to a resovouir with a wood handle . The wax must be kept at the proper temperature. A wax that is too cool will clog the spout of the canting. A wax that too hot will flow too quickly and be uncontrollable. The artisan will often blow into the spout of the canting before applying wax to the cloth in order to clear the canting of any obstructions. High demand for fine batik patterns led to the development of the cap (pronounced chop.) Each cap is a copper block that makes up a design unit. Cap are made of 1.5 cm wide copper stripes that are bent into the shape of the design. Smaller pieces of wire are used for dots. When complete, the pattern of copper strips is soldered to the handle. Through the combination of several cap, intricate designs can be reproduced exactly and quickly, leading to the development of batik factories. In factories, batik is made by hand in an assembly line process where one person is responsible for a particular step in the process. In these factories, canting are used predominantly by women, while the handling of the cap is done by men.

Traditional colors for Central Javanese batik were made from natural ingredients and consisted primarily of blue, brown and black. The oldest color that was used in traditional batik making was blue. The color was made from the leaves of the Indigo plant which is indeginous to the southern regions of Asia. The leaves were mixed with molasses sugar and lime and left to stand overnight. Sometimes sap from the Tinggi tree was added to act as a fixing agent. Lighter blue was achieved by leaving the cloth in the dye bath for short periods of time. Colors darken as the clothe is exposed to the dye for longer peroids of time. Cloth would be left in the dye bath for days and may have been submerged up to 8 10 times a day. In traditional batik, the second color applied was a brown color called soga. The color could range from light yellow to a dark brown. The dye came from the bark of the Soga tree. Another color that was traditionally used was a dark red color called mengkuda. This dye was created from the leaves of the Morinda Citrifolia.. Skilled artisans can create many variations of these traditional colors. Aside from blue, green would be achieved by mixing blue with yellow; purple was obtained by mixing blue and red. The soga brown color mixed with indigo would produce a dark blue-black color.

Certain areas within the island of Java are known for a predominance of certain designs. Central Javanese designs are influenced by traditional patterns and colors. The introduction of Islam, which forbade depicting lifelike pictures, led to stylized patterns without representation of human of animal forms in these styles. Chinese and European influences in the north coast introcuced bright colors and filigree-like birds, flowers, and trees.

Batik designs are either geometric or freehand, or sometimes a combination of both. In the geometric patterns there are the Nitik, influenced by weaving designs, the Kawung, eliptical and circular designs, the Parang, square and parallel diagonal designs, the Ceplok, repetive designs. Freehand designs are the designs defined as North Coastal. Nitik incorporate both freehand and geometric designs, which are based on stylized patterns of natural forms or imitations of a woven texture. One of the oldest and most popular designs is the kawung which consists of parallel rows of ellipses. Crosses or other ornaments such as lines or dots fill the elipses. Although fundamentally geometric, ceplok can also represent abstractions and stylization of flowers, buds, seeds and even animals The diagonal designs are known as Parang. The parang motif is also found in wood carving and in gamelan instruments decoration. Forty patterns of this style have been recorded. The parang are among the most visualy striking of all batik patterns. They are considered asfortunate patterns and they produce slimmimng effect on the woman or man who is wearing it. The North Coastal designs are influenced by Arabic and Chinese merchants and more recently by the Dutch. The Chinese contribution to batik design is the influence of flower and bird motifs, borderpatterns, and in use of pink, yellow and blue. Arabic designs that were predominantly geometric exerted influence throughout the island. Dutch women favoured European floral bouquets, birds, butterflies and bees on their batik designs.

Batik is one of Indonesia s most refined artforms. Modern technology has developed new dyes and waxes, and has allowed for the mass production of batik cloth. Batik garments and tapestries are popular worldwide, and high quality batik can fetch high prices. This reflects the fine artistry that goes into the creation of beautiful batik cloth.


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