Three winners of American Batik Design Competition, consisting of Christiane Grauert, an Associate Professor at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, Donna Backues, a Philadelphia based artist, and Anica Buckson, a fashion design student at the Rhode Island School of Design, visited Indonesia on 11 – 25 January 2014 for the Two Week Batik Tour Prize. They visited cities and places like Jakarta, Cirebon, Pekalongan, Solo, Yogyakarta and Bali. The tour was organized by the Embassy in Washington, D.C. in collaboration with the United States Indonesia Society (USINDO).
While in Indonesia, the winners had the opportunity to see up close, not only the development and the trend of batik industry, art and craft, various batik motifs from various regions, but also to experience the culture, the food, interact with the people and learn about Indonesian history. In Jakarta, the winners visited Batik Trade Center Thamrin City, Tanah Abang, Grand Indonesia, Plaza Indonesia, the Old City Jakarta, the Wayang Museum, the National Museum, the Istiqlal Mosque, Jakarta Cathedral Church, and National Monument (Monas). The tour continued by road to the Batik village Trusmi in Cirebon, and seashells craft factory in Astapada Cirebon, Pekalongan Batik Museum, and Pesindon Batik Village in Pekalongan.
The trip to Solo was highlighted by visits to Laweyan Batik Village, Klewer Market, Batik Keris, Danar Hadi Batik Museum, Sri Wedari Puppet Show, Solo Mangkunegaran and Kasepuhan Kingdoms. In Yogyakarta, the winners visited the Brahma Tirta Sari Studio and met with batik artist Nia Fliam, Agus Ismoyo, Prambanan Temple, Borobudur Temple, Batik Winotosastro, Malioboro, and Kingdom of Yogyakarta. The trip to Bali was more cultural where the winners visited famous places in Bali such as Ubud, Uluwatu, Tanah Lot, Bedugul, Kuta and Sanur.
Leaving the snow encrusted American Midwest for Indonesia in early January could not have been a more welcome escape from the arctic cold. Arriving in the humid, tropical warmth and lush and vibrant vegetation of Indonesia was a magical shift in time and place.
From the moment of stepping off the plane in Jakarta and for the following two weeks of traveling through the islands of Java and Bali, the American Batik Design Competition Tour remained a magical experience that awed me with new and unknown sights, sounds, smells, and tastes.
As a novice to the world of batik, the meticulously and beautifully planned tour not only introduced me to the cities of Cirebon, Pekalongan, Solo, and Yogyakarta with their long tradition of batik, but also allowed me a behind the- scenes glimpse into the broad range of batik production such as a small village work shop of a women’s cooperative, the large facilities of leading national producer Batik Keris, and the great studio of the batik artist team of Agus Ismoyo and Nia Fliam. Along with the wonderfully curated Danar Hadi Museum, this all gave me great insight into the long history and complex tradition of Indonesian batik. While still feeling far from knowing all there is to batik, I without doubt gained over the course of the tour a strong sense of the ongoing significance of batik in Indonesian culture and its exciting path into the future.
When I designed my batik Many Faces, Many Voices for the American Batik Design Competition, I based it on the metaphor of the American melting pot to reflect its ethnic diversity. While I theoretically knew before my trip to Indonesia, that Indonesia as well is a nation of mixed cultures and many languages, I needed to come to the country to fully understand how my batik design not only represents the United States, but is equally applicable to the melting pot of Indonesia with its many languages and ethnicities, all unified in the tongue of Bahasa Indonesia.
In addition to my “batik education”, my first encounter with Indonesia and the introduction to its beautiful landscape, rich culture, friendly people, and amazing cuisine, was a stimulating and exciting experience that left me with an abundance of new impressions and lasting memories. My thanks goes the wonderful tour team who was so willing and excited to show us as many facets of Indonesian culture and every-day life as possible. Along with the intricate designs of the Hokokai batiks, the gorgeous patterns of the court batiks, and the beautifully illustrative content of the Belanda batiks, the first time experience of eating a salak (snake fruit) and seeing a wayang orang performance have left an equally lasting impression.
As an illustrator I keep a sketchbook whenever and where ever I travel. Indonesia provided such a wealth of visual impressions that it was an easy task to fill an entire sketchbook over the course of the tour. Since my return, I find myself flipping through my sketches again and again, remembering and reliving every moment of the trip, hoping to return some day to visit more of the 17.000 plus islands of this amazing country.
Donna Backues, a Philadelphia based studio artist, illustrator and teaching artist.
When my husband first encouraged me to enter the American Batik Design Competition 2013, I was busy and thought I wouldn’t have the time. I loved batik and had learned the technique during the 18 years that my family lived on Java; however, I was still hesitant to add another design project to my already hectic schedule. Apparently I had missed the fact that in addition to prize money, the winners would also win a two week tour to Indonesia. When this was finally realized, I willingly and passionately worked on something that could be translated onto cloth. What a privilege to return to one of the most wonderful places on earth!
When I was first introduced to Indonesian batiks in West Java back in 1989, I became obsessed with not only the beauty of the art itself but also the smells, the smoke, and soft chatter among the workers in the peaceful environment of a small batik factory. I loved the feel of bumpy wax under my fingertips before the wax was boiled off and the stories I was told by the men and women who taught me the process and meanings behind the symbols. Few sights are more beautiful than seeing newly boiled cloth, painstakingly waxed and dyed over many weeks hanging in the breeze along the edges of a rice paddy.
I’m an artist and have been painting and drawing on panels or paper for over 30 years. As an art form, batik cloth is unique in that it is an art (not just a craft) that can be held, sniffed, wrapped around our bodies and folded. Although it started in the courts of Java, batik became the clothing of the masses and appreciated for its beauty and worth by the most common person in Indonesia. Not many cultures can claim the same sort of phenomenon about art that is created on a 2-dimensional surface.
The tour through the north coast of West Java and into the interior of Central Java and then onto the island of Bali was magical of course. I don’t really know how to describe these islands in just a few words. Everything was very well coordinated by Ibu Dara, but also flexible enough so that when we got an unexpected invitation to see a wayang orang stage performance in Solo, we were able to jump at the opportunity. We were spoiled by Indonesian hospitality, humbled by their graciousness and fattened by the delicious local cuisine.
We were lucky because Pak Kholid, was a passionate and knowledgeable tour guide. He taught us about the kingdoms, the sultans, the Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic backdrop and worldview of the Javanese who are credited for developing wax resist technique to a level unsurpassed by any other culture. I had never been to the north coast of Java through which many visitors from around the world entered over thousands of years. We learned so much about batik’s history in Java such as how influential the Chinese, Europeans, Arabs, Indians, and Japanese had been in the development of the different coastal designs. The ancient history of the patterns and the colors specific to each region and their importance in the courts was made more profound to me when we sat and listened to a prince in Solo’s palace describe how he felt about the symbols.
By far the best part of the whole tour was visiting Pak Ismoyo and Ibu Nia’s lovely home near Jogyakarta. What a treat to listen to them talk of their deep philosophy surrounding the making of their art and what a joy to actually see my design in the process of being waxed by a talented batik crafts-person. Batik is wonderful but the process and the community aspect of the batik making experience is just as special. We saw everything from tiny village batik cottage industries surrounded by rice fields and volcanoes to large factories with giant mounds of wax waiting to be re-processed and stacks of stiff waxed fabrics ready to be boiled in giant hot cauldrons. Fortunately our visit to the magnificent Danar Hadi Batik Museum in Solo helped us fill in the gaps of what we had learned about batik’s history up to that point.
When my friends ask me how my trip went, it’s difficult to describe briefly. It was the opportunity of a life time to reconnect with the people and places of a culture where I raised my children and grew to love as my second home. On a professional note, I feel as though I am more qualified to teach the batik method in Philadelphia schools now that I am more knowledgeable about the history and the meanings of the symbols. Although I returned to the USA with “emptier pockets” (I bought way too many batiks) I’m deeply grateful and humbled by the hospitality of the Indonesian people, the beauty of the landscape and the opportunity to learn more about Indonesia’s national treasure.