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Batik: An Indonesian Cultural Heritage
October 29, 2017, 4:32 pm

Sadu House (or Bait Al Sadu), a traditional Kuwaiti-style house along the seafront, which now serves as a cultural center showcasing the traditional Bedouin art of weaving and textiles, would be the ideal venue to display and celebrate the traditional artwork of another country or region.

The Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia in Kuwait thought so too, when they decided to host an exhibition and workshop on ‘Batik’—the traditional Indonesian textile art form—at the Sadu House, on 23 and 24 October, 2017.

The two day exhibition was inaugurated with the cutting of the ceremonial ribbon by Sheikha Altaf Al Salem Al Ali Al Sabah, President of the Sadu House, in the presence of His Excellency the Ambassador of Indonesia to Kuwait Tatang Budie Utama Razak.

In her opening speech, Sheikha Altaf shared a brief history of Batik textile and its strong influence on the global textile industry. For his part the Indonesian Ambassador further elaborated on the cultural relevance of Batik, a term originating from the Javanese ‘Amba’ which means writing and ‘tik’ which translates to dot.

In his remarks the ambassador highlighted the historical evolution of the art form and said that in the past, specific ethnic groups and the hierarchical ranking of the population were defined by the styles of Batik they wore, including some styles that were exclusive only to the Royal family.

“In October 2009, UNESCO officially inscribed Indonesian Batik as a masterpiece of oral and intangible heritage of humanity, and October 2 is now celebrated globally by Indonesians as National Batik Day,” noted the ambassador proudly.

The exhibition provided an insight into the various styles and adaptations of Batik design. A traditional art and craft form that forms a significant aspect of Indonesia’s heritage, Batik designs can be traced back across a wide swathe of territory from China to India and Turkey as well as in West Africa. Despite this wide range, no area has developed Batik to its present day art form as highly as the Indonesian island of Java.

The Javanese, a dominant ethnic group in Indonesia, have been influenced by a variety of cultures such as of the local ethnic groups of Dayak and Papua, as well as foreign impacts from the Islamic, Indian, Persian and Chinese communities that the island came into contact with. Ultimately these multiple interactions helped inspire the development of intricate patterns, techniques and quality that are currently the hallmark of Javanese Batik.

Many of the Batik patterns and motifs contain deep symbolism and may refer to certain social status, community, nature, history and cultural heritage. Over time, this art form continued to gain relevance, and batik designs were incorporated into the daily lives of the local population, from traditional ceremonies to casual and work outfits, home décor and even delicacies like cookies and cakes. Samples of various Batik inspired products were on display at the Sadu House during the two-day exhibition.

During the exhibition, special workshops were held to introduce intrigued guests to the techniques and styles of Batik design, with wax and dyes being used to demonstrate the art of dye resisting decoration. The most traditional form of doing so is that of ‘Batik Tulis’ or written Batik, where wax is applied onto cloth with a sprouted tool called canting. As Batik gained popularity and resulted in a growing demand for this intricate art form, less complex versions that use stamps and prints have evolved.

The intricate complexity of Batik was illustrated through the workshops and the designs that adorned the walls of the Sadu House, where different pieces of textile reflected the regions of Indonesia they stemmed from. Inland Batik designs were more earthy and simplistic, depicting the strong traditional grasp of a region where the oldest form of Batik was practiced. The art from areas towards the coast produced more multicultural patterns as an ode to the long years of maritime trading and external influences they were accustomed to. On the other hand Batik produced on the island of Bali displayed more modern designs reminiscent of the relatively new endorsement of Batik art in this region.

The complex and beautiful Batik art form is such a compelling piece of Indonesian identity that the Indonesian ambassador best condenses it with his words, “The art form of Batik is not just our heritage or culture, but also a lifestyle.”

Nirosha Nair
Special to the Times


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