Batik - Drawn in Wax : 200 Years of Batik Art from Indonesia in the Tropenmuseum Collection

Batik - Drawn in Wax : 200 Years of Batik Art from Indonesia in the Tropenmuseum Collection

Batik – Drawn in Wax : 200 Years of Batik Art from Indonesia in the Tropenmuseum Collection
Van Hout, Itie. Editor
Amsterdam: Royal Tropical Institute/KIT Publishers, 2001

The most recent publication on batik that I have read, this book is published in conjunction with the 2001 exhibition Drawn in Wax – 200 Years of Textile Art from
Indonesia mounted in the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam. The Tropenmuseum now owns a collection of over 3000 pieces from the major batik centers on Java, Madura and Sumatra. The book emphasizes batik as a product of intercultural contact in a society where different ethnic groups lived “next to or with each other” and contains contributions based on recent research in batik discussed from a historical or a combined historical/anthropological point of view. There is an attempt “to avoid presenting textiles as ‘timeless’objects from a ‘timeless’ culture, as ethnographic objects are so often represented, and to see them as meaningful items from a specific cultural context and a well-defined historical period.” The authors accomplish this by tracing the personal stories of the textile donors and relating these stories to the textiles.

The book presents an interesting collection of essays covering history, design, and research methodology on batik. The book is particularly strong on tracing the changing Dutch-Indonesian relationships through the changing Dutch approach to batik between 1815 and 1950. There are good discussions on Juynboll and Rouffaer, the role of Kartini (who also wrote on batik), exploring the main theme of Rouffaer’s writing “that batik is in danger and the authentic quality of Javanese design and production will be lost under the influence of ‘Europeanization.’ Gerret Pieter Rouffaer and H.H. Juynboll published the famous De batik-kunst in Nederlandsch-Indie en haar geschiedenis in 1900, a very influential book that included detailed descriptions of batik from all known sources at that time including social and economic studies conducted by colonial government officials, scientific research about the history of Javanese culture, exhibitions and private collections that were available to their research, Kartini’s manuscript on batik, and the experiments conducted by Dutch artists in the Colonial Museum in Haarlem in the 1890s. Rouffaer, Secretary of the Royal Institute of Linguistics and Anthropology in Leiden for many years, was considered by many as the ultimate authority on batik. “His authority connected the world of private collectors with the world of museums and research and with the commercial use of batik.” (56)

A chapter on “Javanese batik for European artists: Experiments at the Koloniaal Laboratorium in Haarlem” by Maria Wronska-Fiend is especially interesting, showing how Javanese batik techniques were used by European artists as part of the movement to revive Western crafts at the turn of the century, in opposition to industrial mass-produced decorative objects. “The fascination of Javanese batik…had not only to do with its perception of being the ultimate example of a harmonious integration of practicality and aesthetics …Javanese batik textiles offered European artists the technical qualities they most admired: hand-applied wax-resist provided each of the decorated fabrics with individual, unique features resulting from the touch of the human hand and allowed a great deal of personal expression.” (107) The students and artists who worked at the Haarlem laboratory, including a number of foreigners, were influential in popularizing 16 batik in Europe. “..although the direct impact of Haarlem batiks on European textiles came to an end with the First World War, the introduction of this Javanese technique to European art remains the lasting contribution of the Koloniaal Museum, which allowed thousands of Europeans to become acquainted with one of the greatest textile traditions in the world.” (123)

Chapter 6 on “The Chinese batiks of Java,” presents interesting genealogical research that G. Duggan carried out on Peranakan or Indo-Chinese batik manufacturers along the north coast of Java, discussing what the signatures on batik cloths reveal about batik designers. Chapter 9 on “Batik on Batik: A Wayang Story as a Record of Batik Design” by Itie van Hout is instructive in showing how the latest research techniques are applied to an unusual textile that had been studied several times in the past. In the last part of the book, the various themes of the exhibition are illustrated by many of the masterpieces from the collection.

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