Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Young Indonesians Get Back to Batik

For a long time most young Indonesians thought wearing batik was only for government employees and old people. They considered the traditional designs too old-fashioned to be trendy.

But about three years ago, triggered by cultural conflict with Malaysia, this nation’s youth started to embrace batik.

More recently, batik expert Indra Tjahjani, concerned that people lacked a proper understanding of their cultural heritage, started a campaign called Mbatik Yuuuk (Let’s Make Batik) in October 2008.

Indra said she has been passionately involved in batik research for nine years and that she is happy that young people have come to view batik differently over time.

“Now we have many different kinds of batik, which is good news. But it’s sad that most people don’t really appreciate the story behind the making of batik,” she said.

Through Mbatik Yuuuk, Indra runs workshops on how to create batik patterns. She always opens her sessions with a short discussion of the history and philosophy of batik, different types of batik, materials and processes. She also gives participants tips on choosing suitable patterns for different occasions.

“Most people don’t know that there’s actually a philosophy behind each batik pattern,” Indra said.

She explained that in the past batik makers were required to fast before they began their work, which was once considered to be a sacred activity.

Mbatik Yuuuk workshops are conducted regularly, including once every month at Museum Bank Mandiri. Participants are usually between 20- and 40-years-old and come from a diverse range of backgrounds, Indra said.

In the workshops each participant chooses which kind of fabric they want for their batik designs — handkerchief, scarf or tee-shirt. Participants pay fees to cover the cost of equipment: Rp 70,000 for a handkerchief, Rp 140,000 for a scarf and Rp 145,000 for a tee-shirt.

Each workshop consists of at least 20 people and usually lasts between two and three hours “depending on the enthusiasm of the trainees.”

One recent participant, Mudin Em, said he was excited about what he learned in the workshop because he had never realized how much there was to know about batik. “It never occurred to me that making batik was so difficult. It was also very interesting to learn about the philosophies that batik incorporates.”

Mudin added that the workshop was a great place to form friendships with other batik lovers.

Although Indra said she was pleased with Unesco’s recent recognition of batik as Indonesia’s unique cultural heritage, she added that it was “only a start.”

She said the while government might be proud of Unesco’s declaration, but it was also important for the government to work to improve the quality of the country’s batik industry so it could compete in the international market. Indra said the state also needed to look after the welfare of the batik artisans and, most importantly, to copyright thousands of batik patterns to prevent them being copied overseas.

Indra said she had never asked the government for assistance because “the government doesn’t give enough support to batik and the batik industry,” but she welcomes any private companies or individuals who want to back her campaign.

As Mbatik Yuuuk is a nonprofit initiative, Indra said she used inexpensive methods such as Facebook and blogs to spread the word.

At the moment Indra works at a government institution and teaches part-time at several universities. She plans to work to promote Mbatik Yuuuk to schools all around Jakarta once she retires.

“My dream is to see young Indonesians wearing batik as proudly as they wear their ugly-looking jeans,” Indra said.

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