As a craft, batik seems quintessentially Indonesian. After a dispute with Malaysia about its origin, UNESCO in 2009 officially recognised batik as part of Indonesia’s Intangible Cultural Heritage. To celebrate, President Yudhoyono declared 2 October to be batik day, and called on all Indonesians to wear their national costume with pride every Friday. This proved a great boon to the batik industry, introducing the textile tradition to a new generation.
According to the UNESCO decision, batik ‘provides Indonesian people with a sense of identity and continuity as an essential component of their life from birth to death’. Is it possible for a craft that is so tied to national identity to be shared with another culture? This of the Scots and their tartan kilts. No other culture than the Scots would wear or make authentic tartan. Would another culture dare to engage with batik?
With globalisation, we see increasing numbers of foreign designers involved in product development. For the last three years, the Sangam Project has been making connections between designers and artisans in Australia and India. This year the platform extends to Indonesia, beginning with a focus on batik.
Following last year’s International Batik Festival in Semarang, we developed a workshop on 23-24 May 2014 to explore the benefits and obstacles in designer partnerships, particularly those using the new e-commerce platforms. This involved quite intense design feedback, as local Indonesian producers of textiles, fashion, accessories and gifts were quite hungry for a critical assessment of their suitability in the Western market.
The export conference began with an enchanting batik traditional dance, followed by the first of many fashion parades. The combination of fluid traditional dance form and the formalised moves of Western fashion showed how batik can bridge quite wide cultural difference in Indonesia. The following discussion following brought up many important issues. The audience seemed eager to learn about the new e-commerce platforms, though the issue of online purchasing seemed an important matter to resolve. Rather than use credit cards, it seems many Indonesians use a bank transfer system through ATMs, which is negotiated informally through networks such as Instagram. The financial connectors for craft e-commerce Indonesia require more research.