The language of Batik
Although the batik method is used in many parts of the world to decorate cloth, it is in Java where the symbolism of batik has reached the heights of refinement.
I first discovered the non-verbal language of batik on a visit we made to the renowned batik maker Go Tik Swan, a man held in such high regard by President Sukarno that he was made a cultural advisor to the government of Indonesia and by the Sultan of Surakarta that he bestowed the Javanese title KRT Hardjonagoro.
We discovered Go Tik Swan's work when we went to his shop in the Ambarrukmo Hotel in Jogyakarta. Although his batik was costly they were so fine that we had to buy one and which Veronica then made into a dress.
This is the batik we bought And this is the dress she made
The next year again another and then another, but in 1987 on our annual excursion the shop had closed. With a little research, we found out that he lived in Solo and so the next day we took a car and made a visit. I wore a simple shirt made from an old patchwork pattern batik. The patchwork batik serves two purposes. Firstly they can be a sampler of various patterns, but more importantly, they express humility since they are designed to look like the cloth of a humble person, perhaps a mendicant. Go Tik Swan read much more into my choice of dress
This tulis (hand-waxed) batik is an example of the patchwork design symbolizing humbleness.
We were received with gracious hospitality by KRT Hardjonagoro and he allowed me to photograph his atelier and compound but he insisted that we should buy only one piece of batik, his Kembang Bangah motif. As you can see, it is a very subtle design.
Distant and closeup of the Kembang Bangah batik motif
Where he had been a prominent advisor on Indonesian culture to President Sukarno, the Suharto regime sidelined him. His response was to design this batik about which he said, “ Bangbangah is a flower that grows in sewage. Because it blooms in dirty and smelly places, it is shunned by people".
This work was a protest and an expression of disappointment towards the cultural decline that he saw occurring in the New Order government.
Years ago I was told this story which also illustrates the wordless conversations:
A young man wished to marry a well-born girl but before proposing to her he had to ask her father's permission to do so. Preparing to visit his prospective father-in-law he put on a sarong whose pattern indicated the purpose of his visit. The father did not want that union to occur. Javanese do not like to say no, so when the young suitor presented himself the father put on a batik which said that he would not permit it and a polite conversation ensued in which the main subject matter was not mentioned so embarrassment was avoided.
This is the first of several articles on batik that I plan. One will be on our visit to Go Tek Swan. Another expanding on the language of batik