Batik, A Play of Light and Shade

Batik, A Play of Light and Shade

Batik, A Play of Light and Shade (Volume 1) and
Gallery, A Collection of Batik Patterns and Designs (Volume 2)
Tirta, Iwan
Jakarta: Gaya Favorit Press, 1996


This two-volume set is a piece of art itself with pen and ink drawings and photographs, telling the story of batik within the structure of a classical wayang kulit play. The Talu or overture discusses the history of early batik; the Adeg Jejer gives an overview of batik in the royal courts; Adeg Sabrang explains outside influences; GoroGoro, a period of upheaval, Tirta uses as a metaphor to discuss the period starting with the outbreak of World War II and the downfall of the Dutch administration during which
Hokokai batiks appeared and pagi-sore batik compositions emerged as a practical invention to conserve cotton. Batik with a pan-Indonesian character emerged in the early 1960s and culminated in the late 1970s; he highlights the roles of Harjonagoro (also known as Go Tik Swan) whom he considers the pioneer of ”Batik Indonesia” (born into a well-known peranakan Chinese family that had made quality batik for years in Solo). Harjonagoro added new colors and enlarged traditional designs from central Java and with Mrs. Bintang Sudibyo (known as Ibu Sud) opened Indonesia’s first batik boutique in 1953. Harjonagoro was heavily patronized by Sukarno and his batik activities waned following the aborted coup in 1965. Other personalities that Tirta considers important are: Ibu Kanjeng Harjowiratmo from Wonogiri and her daughter Raden Ayu Praptini Partaningrat who are well-known for their golden soga batiks, Nyai Bei Mardusari whose batiks are distinguished by the use of special isen-isen, Haji Maria Noor’s workshop in Yogyakarta whose brown and white batiks are considered of special quality, Mrs. Setyowati Sakri from Pekalongan who specialized in soft pastel batiks, and the workshops of Madmil and Masina near Cirebon. Iwan himself is well known for his experimentation, what he calls his “microscope approach” to batik design where he enlarges designs. He has also experimented with different materials and with design motifs from all parts of Indonesia.

Finally the Tancep Kayon or epilogue discusses the mass production of silkscreened prints and his vision of batik in the future. While he believes that batik has a robust future, he predicts that the mid-sized batik workshops will disappear, that batik
cap will no longer be profitable, and that studio-type workshops producing high-quality handmade and hand-drawn batiks will survive, directed to highly discriminating clients. “It is ironic to end my reflections on batik by saying that the batiks of Java, which started as ceremonial cloth worn by a precious few, now in a modern form will emerge again as a specialty product for the elite in Indonesia, as well as abroad. It will be available to those who recognize and support batik for the high artistry and top quality this fabled cloth has brought to the world.” (198) Volume 1 includes a glossary of important terms and a selected bibliography.

Volume II includes a collection of 69 color plates that are personal choices of the author based on what he perceives as beautiful, organized according to regional origin. They are preceded by pen drawings of batik motifs, which show the intricacy and structural basis of the patterns before they are enhanced by dyes. On the reverse side of each plate are some historical, artistic and personal observations about the patterns and designs, the artists, the craftspeople, and the methodology.


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