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Past exhibition

Special Exhibition
Indonesian Batik Exhibition
Batik, a traditional Indonesian resist-dyeing technique that uses wax to create patterns on fabric, was listed as the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO in 2009. To this day, batik is still worn by Indonesians to mark special moments in life such as births, weddings, and funerals.
In the Indonesian language, the word batik means “to draw” or “to write”. Making batik by applying hot wax with a canting, a pen-like tool, is a uniquely Indonesian craft tradition.
The development of the art of batik can be traced back to 17th-century Central Java, when larangan started to emerge, forbidden motifs exclusively reserved for the royals, making batik patterns symbols of class and identity. Later on, business travelers from all over the country gathered in prosperous trading regions such as the north coast of Java, which allowed batik to develop and diversify.
This batik exhibition consists of three sections: “Understanding Batik—The World of Painting and Dyeing”, “Central Java Batik—The Royal Classics”, and “North Coast Batik—A Rich Variety”. We hope this brief introduction to the techniques and pattern development of batik will give visitors a glimpse into Indonesia’s rich history and culture.

Understanding Batik--The World of Painting and Dyeing
Batik is a common word for tattooing in East Indonesian and Philippines languages, which were believed to ward off disaster. It has been posited that the origin of batik fabric may be linked to the practice of tattooing. Over time, batik has replaced tattoo traditions.  
Batik is a resist-dyeing technique using wax. Batik is also found in other parts of Asia, but the cantings (copper pen-like drawing tools) used in Indonesian batik are unique and can be used to create fine, painting-like patterns. Batik made through the use of cantings is called batik tulis. Batik cap, a method in which designs are applied in wax using copper cap stamps, has been used for mass production since the 19th century, which has helped the batik industry to develop.

Central Java Batik—The Royal Classics
The development of Indonesian batik has flourished most in Java, where indigo and brown are the main colors. It originated in the court of the Sultanate of Mataram in Central Java in the 17th century. Central Java’s classical culture has a long history. Despite absorbing cultural elements from Buddhism and Hinduism, Islam is the main faith in the region; thus, Central Javan batik decorations are mostly plant and geometric patterns. Parang, Kawung, and Semen patterns were tightly regulated and exclusively reserved for the royal family. Today, these “forbidden” patterns have become popular motifs in contemporary batik.

North Coast Batik—A Rich Variety
The north coast of Java has been a trading center since ancient times, with precious Indian fabrics being traded here. Thus, early batik patterns here generally imitated designs on Indian painted and dyed cloth, while also conforming to the layout of Central Java patterns. As Indians, Arabs, Chinese, Europeans, and other ethnic groups came to the north coast, pattern designs evolved to meet different preferences, including auspicious symbols favored by the Chinese and realistically depicted flower bouquets popular among Indo-European communities.
Exhibition Information
  • Event Date 2021-10-01~2022-01-09
  • Location 3F S304
20th century
Brown shoulder cloth with leaf and animal motifs
  • Indonesia
Batik is a wax-resist dyeing process for making designs on fabric. The wax is melted, and a canting, a pen-like instrument with a copper cup, is used to draw on the fabric in liquid wax. The canting’s long, thin spout means it can draw very fine patterns. The wax prevents dye from penetrating the fabric, thus leaving blank areas on the dyed cloth.
This shoulder cloth (selendang) has been decorated with vivid flowering vines formed by continuous dots. The small white dots show where the wax was applied. A closer look shows tiny cracks in the dots where the wax dried and cracked and so allowed the dye to partly seep into the fabric.
Early 20th century
Brown breast cloth with diamond shape
  • Central Java, Indonesia
This work, worn in the central Javanese royal court, combines the techniques of wax-resist dyeing (batik), tie-dyeing (pelangi), and stitch-dyeing (tritik). The diagonal parang patterns were created using the wax-resist dyeing method, while the white diamond shape in the middle was made using the tie-dyeing technique. The diamond shape is sometimes decorated with Chinese silk.
This work is covered with white silk to create layers. Judging from the narrow dimensions of the fabric, this is likely a woman’s breast cloth (kemben). Usually, kemben comes in diamond shape pattern in the middle and were worn by aristocratic women or royal dancers. 
Family photograph of the Kartini / Illustration from De Batik-Kunst in Nederlandsch-Indië en haar geschiedenis (The Art of Batik in the Netherlands East Indies and Its History)
  • Utrecht, the Netherlands
This photograph features Raden Ajeng Kartini (1879–1904, fouth right) and her family. A national hero in Indonesia, Kartini was a prominent activist who founded schools for girls and encouraged women to receive an education and learn the traditional batik craft. She was also instrumental in the promotion of the Indonesian art of batik in the West. At the 1898 National Exhibition of Women’s Work, Kartini displayed a series of traditional craftworks, including Javanese batik and wood sculpture, and wrote very detailed Dutch-language introductions on the process of batik production, but the texts were not published. Dutch scholar G. P. Rouffer (1860–1928) later came into possession of Kartini’s manuscripts and used them as reference sources for his book. Two photographs featuring Kartini provided by her brother are among the illustrations in Rouffer’s book, one a family photograph, and the other showing Kartini and her two sisters making batik.
Early 20th century
Yellow batik sarong decorated with figures and landscape
  • North coast, Indonesia
In the center of this textile, farmers surround two peculiar animals, one is black with white dots, and the other blue with white dots, both with red faces and long snouts. These are the Malay  tapirs, an indigenous animal species of the Malay region. Young tapirs have dappled fur. The farmers surrounding the animals are dancing, some doing somersaults, giving a lively feel.
At the first glance, this work seems to portray rural life, with farmers pushing carts and boys carrying poles on their shoulders when looking closely on the top right corner. In the meantime, two airplanes can be seen gliding across the top, seems to suggest accomplished milestone in history. The Wright Brothers achieved the first powered aircraft flight in the early 20th century, and in 1924 KLM Royal Dutch Airlines flew its first Asian flight to Batavia. This work was likely produced at a time when new means of transportation were being introduced such as the train, steamboats, and airplanes, all of which played an important role in the narratives of north coast batik. These are symbols of the advent of modern life and the technological prowess of the European colonizers.
Early 20th century
Yellow batik sarong with floral, butterfly, and bird motifs
  • North coast, Indonesia
Among the European batik workshops, the most influential of all was the one ran by Eliza Charlotta van Zuylen, who worked in Pekalongan starting in the late 19th century and created a popular floral motif in Europe (the “van Zuylen bouquet”) which is sometimes decorated with delicate silk ribbons. This series of pattern bouquets were extremely well-received on the north coast of Java and was often imitated by many other workshops. The custom signing of batiks was also introduced around this time to avoid plagiarism.
20th century
Batik cloth with shadow puppetry design
  • Java, Indonesia
Empat, an integral part of Javanese mythology. The four characters are indigenous deities in the guise of kind village elders who lend Javanese a friendly ear. Through worshipping to the gods and land, it shows Javanese people’s loving spirit to the earth..
From top to bottom: Gareng, portrayed as small, thin, with a short nose and a broken hand; Petruk—tall, thin, with a long nose; and Semar, who swallowed a mountain during the war of succession and thus has a distended belly. Bagong, the fourth character in Punakawan Empat, does not appear on this batik. He is said to have been born from Semar’s shadow, so the two look alike.