Photos by Bagus Tri Laksono
Scholars and archeologists alike aren’t sure when batik first saw the light of day in Indonesia; its existence predates the country’s written records. Although, one of the discovered writings of Mataram history, Suluk Kuthagedhe, has a chapter called Suluk Ambatik. It was filled with lessons for the Javanese girls at the time. The content aimed to inspire them to possess a clear purpose to life and plentiful knowledge balanced with hospitality.
From the time Suluk Kuthagedhe was written, it was customary for Javanese women to beautify their clothes with interpretations from Suluk Ambatik. Quite fittingly, their works were named after the chapter. It’s what we now know as batik.
But with a pattern so glorified, its fame reaching to different corners of the world, batik has succumbed to technology. It’s very rare to see a group of ladies sitting down, assiduously performing the ‘dot-making’ process as their ancestors had. Instead, it’s more common to see ‘printed batik’, a product of stamping. Batik is slowly losing its sparkle of the human touch.
Larasati Suliantoro Sulaiman feels she has to step in. She is a long-time lecturer at the Universitas Gadjah Mada for The Philosophy of Art, Pancasila and a number of other subjects. Her interest for art and social issues is all the more apparent upon developing a community of batik artisan to maintain the making of the original batik tulis.
In fact, her endeavors have earned her numerous awards, including one from MURI, the Indonesian Museum of Record. Perhaps also as rewarding was when the late Princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly took notice of Larasati for her passionate work. She has also initiated Yogyakarta as World’s Batik City as then inaugurated by World Craft Council (WCC) at WCC Summit 2014 in Dongyang, China.
Oemi Salamah’s (Larasati’s mother-in-law) family house, now turned to Mustokoweni Heritage Hotel in Yogyakarta, has part of it dedicated to a batik gallery called Galeri Batik Jawa. In this hotel, the guests can see the making process of the batik in the backyard.
Firstly, the pattern designs are drawn on the sheets with a pencil. The pencil-lined templates are then covered with warm wax before the colouring process begins. Next, the sheets are rinsed to remove the wax and finally we get to see the beautiful indigo batik.
The gallery displays indigo batik for both men and women, not only clothing, but also bags and other accessories. These bluish indigo hand-painted batik sheets can be worn throughout the day and into the night. This captivating colour, together with the original Javanese style that Larasati keeps intact exude a certain sense of quiet elegance, seamed together with heritage.
“I am conscious of my being as a Javanese and an Indonesian, “ she said. “I am proud to make our heritage as a part of my everyday life.” If you get to meet Larasati in the flesh, she will certainly be wearing batik tulis or written batik as a bottom piece, styled with Kebaya as a blouse, just like how Javanese women used to do it in the olden days. The graceful lady has been dressed as so for 60 years.
This article was originally published in Indonesia Design’s 70th edition themed “Yogyakarta” published in 2015.