Batik: (Inter)National Fabric

In 2009, UNESCO officially filed Indonesian batik under its Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The list recognises the cultural significance of that the intricate art form has had on the archipelago, known for its elaborate wax-dying process.

Painting BATIK© Reinhart Sianturi, Flickr

The listing has been wonderful for the revival of batik in Indonesia itself, as it impacted Indonesians on cultural and nationalist levels. While the art form has assimilated most widely in Indonesia, let’s not forget that its global impact spanned across multiple countries and continents, either independently or through the influence of trade, with each country making it their own. Here’s a brief rundown of other countries that have let batik assimilate into their national fabric:


1. Malaysia

The traditional Malaysian baju kurung are worn on special occasions such as weddings and Ramadan, and may be found throughout the entire length and width of the Malaysian peninsula. The desired artistic effect is achieved through the method in which patterns are drawn onto the fine silk cloth: Malaysian batik differs from traditional Javanese batik in its use of brushes instead fine-tipped canting. What results is a watercolour painting fit for wear, characterised by large florals and vibrant colours.

© Candice DeVille

2. China

Batik in China has been traced as far back as 518 BC, and the art form continues today in Southwestern China. Like Javanese batik, the ethnic people of Guizhou Province work with traditional methods of drawing freehand patterns with hot wax, but this is where the similarities end. In Guizhou Province, batik patterns are drawn onto cotton and hemp, and then dyed a rich indigo shade before adding them as panels on skirts, jackets, and baby carriers. Southwestern Chinese batik is filled with animal motifs, featuring centipedes, fish, and butterflies, with each animal representative of anything from gender to prosperity.

© Source

3. Senegal

This coastal West Africa country of thirteen million is home to two methods of batik printing: one method involves the use of traditional hot wax to draw, essentially, stencils onto cloth before dying it and removing the hot wax to reveal the art underneath. The second method involves the use of rice paste, which in turn is applied differently depending whether you are a man or woman. Women are obligated to proceed with the application with feathers, sticks, or bone, while men apply the same paste with thin metal stencils. Patterns drawn onto the cloth include animals and scenery depicting everyday life.

© Source

While the birthplace of batik remains a highly contentious matter, it’s safe to say that its geographic point of origin has not kept the world from embracing it. It’s a malleable art form that manifests the true nature of whatever culture is producing it, and for that, feeling pride for Indonesian batik should not prevent anyone from enjoying batik prints that come from another co-ordinate.