TEXT AND PHOTOS EUDEN VALDEZ
Batik is a method of dyeing fabric using wax resist. The traditional process is handmade from start to finish, and the result is a motif textile that can be transformed into clothing ranging from everyday wear to traditional costumes.
Indonesia is credited to have proliferated the art of batik. In Yogyakarta, or Jogja for short, batik has developed with hundreds of years of skill and sophistication, resulting to thousands of unique and elaborate motifs.
Batik Plentong showcases this and more through its artisans, masters, and truly, heroes of the art.
One of them is Hadi Suwito. At 80, Suwito has dedicated most of his life to batik, and continues to do so.
Coming to Jogja in his 20s as an orphan, Suwito was fortunate to be chosen to work for Batik Plentong. In the beginning, he was an errand boy doing everything from housekeeping to closing shop. He was so diligent that Djaelani immediately took notice.
Suwito recalled that he was sent to workshops to learn about batik making. For years, he was in charge of quality control, spotting mistakes and correcting them.
Soon, he became the right-hand man of the owner until he finally became the operations manager.
There is also Ibu Muryanti, a second-generation batik maker who is in her 50s.
She used to make the textile with her mother in their village until she moved to Batik Plentong just five years ago. Since then, she has never been happier drawing batik patterns.
Muryanti is an expert in batik handwriting. She is the first to welcome tourists who enters Batik Plentong’s as her workspace is located across the wall for the framed batik process.
She sits on a small stool with a cloth in her lap, above her a small light bulb, similar to Plentong’s emblem. Slowly, she pours hot molten wax from the canting—made of bamboo handle and small copper cup—onto the fabric to trace the pencil-drawn motif.
While batik handwriting is reserved to women for its intricacy, another technique is handed to men.
They use handheld coppers to stamp wax motifs on fabric. Batik Plentong’s roster of men artisans are lined up where light from the window floods in.
After handwriting or stamping with wax, the cloth is then dyed with natural coloring, and then traced with wax and dyed again—depending on the motif’s number of colors. Finally, the wax will be rinsed off with boiling water for cotton fabric or gasoline for silk. What remains are the white lines once protected by wax to reveal the elaborate and beautiful motif.
This entire process takes up to two months, depending on the size of the fabric.
What’s in store for batik is not without a challenge. One is “regeneration,” as traditional batik artisans are old and getting older.
Fortunately, there is hope just like the light that Batik Plentong continues to shine to its people and the industry. A 17-year-old female student is interning for Batik Plentong’s workshop. She is currently taking up Textile.
Batik Plentong actively takes part in Yogyakarta’s efforts to preserve its culture and traditions by educating young people.
(Parts of this photo essay are lifted from an article originally written for Philstar.com.)