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Tuesday, February 12, 2019


Millar Sungkar 

Rumah Batik dia-dio

Pekalongan - Yogyakarta

     We cannot begin to truly appreciate this magnificent story telling batik made by Ibu Millar Sungkar from Yogyakarta, until we appreciate the role of isen-isen and tanahan motifs.

     Batik from the Pasisir was and still is, famous for the finest and most technically intricate examples of the batik process and for its exquisite use of colours.  Central to the achievement of these qualities is the incorporation of isen-isen and tanahan motifs.  Isen-isen are tiny motifs used to fill in within the outlines of the key motifs while the tiny tanahan motifs fill in the spaces outside the main motifs, on the background.  It is the isen-isen and tanahan motifs that distinguish Indonesian batik from that of other countries, where they are not used.

     Isen-isen and tanahan are not contrasting motifs but rather have much in common.  
Depending on the region where the batik is made, the same tiny filler motif may be used as 
an isen-isen motif or as a tanahan motif.  In each region the batikkers/Pengobeng (hired women who waxed the batik),  consider their own version of isen-isen and tanahan motifs a condition for what is regarded a superior work.

Ibu Millar Sungkar - Rumania Batik dia-dio, Yogyakarta
Batik Workshop - Pekalongan
Pekalongan (north coast of Java), 2010
Skirt cloth Kain sarong and selendang (a shawl)
Handwoven silk, synthetic dyes; batik tulis
Photo: Mick Richards
     With the emergence of batik Belanda in the 1840s isen-isen and tanahan motifs were employed to strongly enhance the main motif and the overall visual and technical sophistication of the batik cloth.  This enabled the creation of not just the illusion of a colour change, but also the introduction of actual shades of colour, by intensifying or dispersing the isen-isen dots and/or lines.  Also the illusion of depth and form is achieved by the use of dots that from a distance appear like fine lines.  To serve this purpose, filler motifs that were once of uniform size and distribution were now dispersed at random, sometimes in sparse spacing, and others more concentrated, and they varied in size.  These two filler motifs are still used extensively today.

Examples of isen-isen motifs, their names and interpretation.
APPENDICES, page 214, Index of Principality Isen Motifs -
Batik - Spirit of Indonesia, YAYASAN BATIK INDONESIA,1999,
ISBN 979- 95801-0-2

     My appreciation of isen-isen and tanahan motifs is totally encapsulated in the following cloth that speaks volumes about the utilisation of these two types of filler motifs by leading contemporary Javanese batik artist, Ibu Millar Sungkar of Rumah Batik dia - dio.  

     While Millar’s retail outlet is located in Yogyakarta, her batik is made at varying workshops in Pekalongan.  Her work is exceptional in both its creativity and its craftsmanship.  The following hand-woven silk sarung and selendang (shawl), tells the story of Yogyakarta’s famous war hero, Diponegono, a Javanese prince.  He fought the Dutch colonials in the Java War of 1825-1830.  It is him on the horse-back.

As this cloth is a sarung it contains a kepala, the dark coloured rectangle with the hero on horse back motif.  The kepala is surrounded by a floral border, a continuation of the same floral border pinggir, running along the complete top and bottom of the cloth.   

In addition to the prolific incorporation of tanahan and isen-isen motifs, Millar's lead batikkers/Pengobeng possess extraordinary canting (wax pen), skills.  With agile hands, a highly developed eye, breathing control, and immense patience, the batikker is able to produce a myriad of lines, dots and shapes by the application of flowing hot wax onto the cloth.  Like the ink painter's brush, the canting is intrinsically suited for linear expression, responding to the subtle shifts in the flow or motion of the batikker's hand and canting.  The highly skilled batikker with a single glide of the canting, can translate the outline of the desired motif into flowing line, conceiving it simultaneously as a single gesture of life.  This approach is less concerned about repressing given appearances accurately and more a response to the spirit of living things- birds, butterflies, trees, tulips, lilies, horses, etc.  Like the ink painter the batikker only has one chance to harmoniously apply the wax outlines to the cloth as the medium does not allow for a "second chance".  A batik hand-waxed with a canting is known as batik tulis, the most expensive form of batik to purchase.

This detail enables you to more clearly see the outstanding use of line to capture the sense of battle and action and pattern to provide you insights into the terrain on which the battle is taking place, the various uniforms worked by the soldiers, both dead and alive, along with clouds, birds, sky, etc.  I love the decision to leave the gorgeous flow of the cloud outlines, above in centre sky, as lines!  We see this use of dark coloured outlines on other parts of the surface.   

I hope you have enjoyed being introduced to this very much 'alive' cloth.  It is always a favourite with friends when looking through the collection cabinet housing the batiks, folded on their individual roles.  On opening the doors you are always met by the rich fragrance of cloves, a good protector.  The cloves are accompanied by a small bowl of white pepper- corns.  I would so appreciate any comments you may have about this cloth, a cloth you have, or batik in general.  It is always great to hear the stories of others who have been captured by the beauty and the stories of and attached to, Javanese batik.

Appreciation:  Followers who have received this Post would be amazed that it is the first since May 30, 2013, nearly six years.  I now hope this is not going to repeat itself but I do feel I am more able for that not to occur.  Extremely poor health has been and sadly remains, the culprit.  Passion, perseverance, curiosity, and love of life has to remain at the centre of each day. 

I would love to express my gratitude and thanks to two wonders of the batik world, for their support and generosity of spirit, such powerful motivators.  If you are an enthusiast of Javanese batik you will certainly know the names of Maria Wronska-Friend and Rens Heringa.  They have both made a significant contribution to knowledge, understanding and appreciation of batik from Indonesia via their teaching, writing, exhibition development, conference presentations and numerous other face to face interactions.



Saturday, March 30, 2013

Pekalongan - Oey Djien Nio - Liem Siek Hien - Jane Hendromartono


A Pekalongan Batik made in the Kudus Style

Oey Djien Nio (1924 - 1986),was a third generation batik-maker in Pekalongan.  She signed her earlier works with her husband's name, Liem Siek Hien.  Post 1965 she used her new Indonesian family name, Hendromartono, adopted by her husband (Peranakan citizens were advised by the government to adopt Indonesian names as a demonstration of their loyalty, post Independence.  She combined this family name with the name people used to address her by, Jane -

Jane Hendromartono.

Judi Achjadi wrote: Pekalongan's batik industry thrived on catering to the diverse tastes of clients from all over Indonesia.  The batik of Demak and Kudus on Central Java's north coast was so well-known for its fine detailing that the Pekalongan enterprises often wrote 'Kudus' or 'Demak'on the cloths (see below), so that they would be recognised by people who wanted one of these famed cloths but did not have access to Kudus or Demak batik-makers.  [Judi Achjadi & H. Santosa Doellah. The Glory of Batik- The Danar Hadi Collection.  Solo, Pt. Batik Danar Hadi , 2011]  

Detail 1
Java, Pekalongan, c. 1950
Liem Siek Hien ( post 1965, Jane Hendromartono), 1924 - 1986
Skirt cloth kain panjang pagi-sore (detail)
Cotton, synthetic dyes; batik tulis
104.0 x 259.5.0 cm 


Detail 2

This opulent batik was made by Liem Siek Hien in Pekalongan but in addition to her signature she has included the name of the town Kudus, which is further east along the coast from Pekalongan. While she lived and worked in Pekalongan, the batik was executed in the Kudus-style. The art work's colourful floral motifs along with a family of small exotic birds (Details 2,4 and 6), are set against - the most intricate backgrounds to be found on the entire north coast - (Inger McCabe Elliott. Batik- Fabled Cloth of Java, p.144). The three generations of this important family of Pekalongan batik makers were: Oey Soen Khing (Java,1861 - 1942), who was the mother-in-law of Mrs. Oey Kok Sing née Kho Tjing Nio ( Java, d. 1966), who was the mother of Oey Djien Nio [Liem Siek Hien and post 1965 Jane Hendromartono], (Java, 1924 - 1986).

While the work has a pagi-sore structure the diagonal divisdion can be seen above in Detail 1.  The two halves have a common background made up of an overall shade of brown that was widely used in Kudus.  The background has been broken-up by the repetition of small white dots and multicoloured flower petals.  Perhaps these petal shapes also resemble the clover leaf shapes known as tanahan Semarangan motifs.  Tanahan motifs fill-in the spaces outside the main motifs, on the background.  Batik Pasisir is renowned for the finest and most technically intricate examples of the batik process.  Central to the achievement of these qualities is the incorporation of tanahan and isen-isen motifs by highly skilled batikkers with extraordinary canting skills.  Isen-isen are the tiny filler motifs used within the outlines of the key motifs.  Together these tiny motifs are what distinguishes Indonesian batik from that of other countries, where they are not used.


Detail 3

This extremely beautiful art work has a complete terang bulan border in both halves.  A section of the left side border can be seen above, in Detail 3.  The borders are so saturated with very fine isen-isen motifs, they appear as if in a light haze or perhaps like the transparent veils shielding the Milky Way.  The amazing number of minutely detailed isen-isen and tanahan motifs would indicate the wearer was from a wealthy background.   This intricate work is a variation of the Kudus batiks made before the occupation of the Japanese, and is known as buketan Semarangan.  These even more densely detailed works were produced by Peranakan owned workshops for Peranakan customers after Independence.  The terang bulan border was a key characteristic of Djawa Hokokai batiks which were developed in response to the aesthetic preferences of Japanese clients during the 1943 - 1945 occupation of Java.

Detail 4

Liem Siek Hien's attention to variations in surface detail is highlighted by her exquisite treatment of the birds' feathers, as in Detail 4 above.  The exotic plumage of each of the four birds utilises an array of combinations of intricately developed decorative approaches and colours .  The birds are placed against an equally intricate but darker in colour background.  The delicate water-colour treatment of each birds' heads has most likely been achieved by the batikker first encircling the shape with wax-resist, followed by hand-colouring.  This is a process known variously as colet, besut, and dulit, depending on local terminology.

Detail 5

All of the various flower and bird arrangements in this inspired work are flexible and flowing.  All elements possess the spirit of life.  As in Detail 5 above, a sense of depth is added to the flowers by the use of darker central areas and shaded filler motifs.  The extreme finest of the linear use of white dots (that appear like lines), flowing from the tips of each bloom back down into the centre, are extraordinary!  The more dense the dots, the lighter the colour becomes.  This is an excellent example of the use of isen-isen motifs to enhance the main motif     The delicate pink of the blooms lights up against the darker background.    

Detail 6

This is an art work I become absorbed in every time I remove it from the safety of its storage cabinet and unroll it across the work table.  Its richness is adored by all and it is with astonishment they survey the intricate canting work.  It is made from the finest cotton and now with age, it feels like sensuous silk.  In the image above of the full work, it is easy to decipher the two halves of the work's pagi-sore structure.  The key motif on the left side consists of various groupings of a family of birds which are balanced on the right side by the random placement of bouquets of heavenly pink blooms.  Each of these key motifs are also interwoven into their respective terang bulan borders.  Additionally, each half of the pagi-sore has motifs in common including blue/mauve chrysanthemums, blue/mauve and orange orchids/daffodils and floral sprigs in blue and pink.  The motifs in common with each half contribute to the work's overall sense of balance and harmony.  Both of the short ends have a kepala consisting of multi-coloured small triangles against a background of the brown shade covered in white dots.  Both long sides are edged by a finely striped secret.

Other images of art work by Liem Siek Hien (Jane Hendromartono) can be found in the following publications:

Djoemena, Nian S.  Batik dan Mitra (Batik and its Kind), Jakarta, Djambatan, 1990. page 20.
Knight-Achjadi, Judi & Damas, Asmoro.  Butterflies and Phoenixes- Chinese Inspirations in Indonesian Textile Arts.  Singapore, Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2006.  page 160.
Kerlogue, Fiona.  Batik- Design, Style & History.  London, Thames & Hudson, 2004. 
pages 68 & 69. 
McCabe Elliott, Inger.  Batik- Fabled Cloth of Java.  Singapore, Periplus Editions, 2004. 
pages 126, 127 & 148.


In addition to the four publications listed above:
Judi Achjadi & H. Santosa Doellah.  The Glory of Batik- The Danar Hadi Collection.  Solo,
I have an article which includes Liem Siek Hien, in the latest edition of: ASIAN TEXTILES- Magazine of the Oxford Asian Textile Group, Number 54, February 2013, pages 18 - 26 inclusive.  This edition of Asian Textiles is available online in full colour in a pdf file to download, view and/or print.  Access to the pdf file is either via whilst it is the current issue or always via the back issues page by first clicking on the cover image thumbnail.

I hope you enjoy this truly wonderful art work and I would greatly appreciate receiving your thoughts about it and/or the artist, Liem Siek Hien.  Sourcing information about individual batik artists is difficult so all feed-back is greatly appreciated.  It is marvellous to be back sharing my passion for batik with you, after such a long absence.......for those of you with good health, embrace and hold onto it, so you can spend much more time travelling Indonesia and enjoy the great experience of visiting the batik workshops along the north coast of Java!



Thursday, August 9, 2012

Pekalongan - European Fairy Tales

Towards the end of the 19th century with the expansion of Dutch colonial power, completely new batik designs with naturalistic images began to appear.  The themes of these batik designs included boats, trains, card games, fans, bicycles, bank-notes and coins, and European fairy-tales.  The European fairy-tales which were popular as themes for batik designs included Red Riding Hood, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Sleeping Beauty but Red Riding Hood was especially popular.  Fairy- tales were popular as batik designs from around 1900 until 1920.  The Indo-European made versions of these themes were also made in Javanese and Chinese workshops, with interesting variations occurring.

Please click on all images to enlarge.

Detail 1- Red Riding Hood (Roodkapje) theme was very popular as a theme for European and Indo-European batik-makers from about 1900 to 1920.  These themes were also adopted by the Javanese and Chinese batik-makers with some very interesting variations in interpretation occurring.  The Chinese maker of this cloth has chosen to supplement this design with the integration of fish and prawns into the borders of the work as well as two lobsters into the kepala!
[Photo Mick Richards].

The variations that occur in the batik designs with the Red Riding Hood (Roodkapji) theme are many.  This does not depend on the maker being Indo-European or Chinese or Javanese.  Eliza van Zuylen produced works with a particular theme that differed from others she had produced with that theme and differed again to others executed by her colleagues, with the same theme.  Perhaps this may have been an attempt by each batik-maker to personalise the design as many batik workshops including van Zuylen's, worked from large drawings purchased from freelance artists.  Hence all workshops who purchased the large drawings began with identical patterns.  The large drawings were used as the support for the wax tracings.

The background of this cloth is decorated with a classic Javanese motif, the banji (Detail 1).  The basis of this motif is the swastika.  The word 'banji' is of Chinese origin and carries symbolic meaning for the Chinese of happiness, wealth and prosperity.  There is certainly a feeling of happiness as the wolf strides along-side Little Red Riding Hood who is carrying a bunch of flowers. 

The format of kain sarungs had gradually changed over time.  Initially the kepala bisected the badan then later it was placed at one end of the cloth and finally in Indo-European designed cloths the kepala was placed at one hand's width from the end of the cloth.  The Chinese batik-maker of this cloth has adopted the Indo-European format as seen below and in Detail 2.

The borders at the top and bottom of this cloth are symmetrical. The same design is used in the outer edges of the kepala.  The bow border consists of unrecognisable flowering creepers which have been interwoven with fish and prawns.  The drawing style of the large lobsters in the kepala and the fish and prawns in the borders reminds me of the Indramayu style except in this work, the flow of line is not as free.  There is an outer edge of small vertical lines at both the top and bottom.  These vertical lines appear to be further apart then seen in earlier examples.

Pekalongan, 1900 - 1920
Skirt cloth kain sarung
Cotton, synthetic dyes; batik tulis
Greg Roberts & Ian Reed Collection
[Photo Mick Richards]

Note the variations in the colour of each wolf with the left and right wolf being blue and the wolf in the middle is red.  Also the batik-maker has varied the colours used in the hem line of Red Riding Hood's dress: again the left and right are the same colours and the middle one is different.  An aubergine colour applied by hand over red, has also been used sparingly and with no consistency- on the odd flower or leaf, and all prawn heads.  It is as if it was a new colour that had to be utilised by the batik-maker!


Detail 2- kepala with diagonal bands- the use of diagonal bands, dlorong, in the kepala was one of the decorative innovations introduced by the Indo-European designers at the turn of the 19th century.  The central panel within the diagonal band of the kepala consists of only plant forms- creepers with cream stems and tendrils, blue leaves and red flower buds all placed on a green background.  The large central band has three smaller diagonal bands on each side.  The centre band of these three smaller diagonal bands are the more dominate because of the use of the cream colour and its width being double that of the other two. 
Intriguingly, the design of the two red triangle shapes each side of the central diagonal band, consists of a large lobster interwoven with flowering creepers.  For me, this combination of marine and plant forms is very unusual!  The design and use of colour and line in both the kepala and borders almost disguises the marine forms.   
[Photo Mick Richards]

Detail 3-  apart from the wolf displaying his vicious teeth the scene seems one of happiness.  Birds and butterflies flutter above her amongst the flowering trees.  In Eliza van Zuylen, Liem Metzelaar and other Indo-European batik-makers' versions of this theme the trees were usually more European in style and rarely were flowering.  The slender roots of each tree reach down into the soil unlike many of the European designs where the roots were thick and heavy.   Her clothing and the basket she carries on her left arm, are European in style.  The Peranakan Chinese batik-maker of this cloth has combined both Chinese and European design elements.  The actual design of the tree that is, the placement of branches and leaves, does have similarities to one produced by Lies van Zuylen on a kain panjang in 1900 (Batik from the north coast of Java- Fabric of Enchantment, Catalogue no. 34, p. 140).

It is interesting to compare the design of the flowering tree in this batik with those in the two earlier posts.  All three batiks were produced by Peranakan Chinese batik-makers and have been influenced by the buketan style.
[Photo Mick Richards]

Detail 4- highlights the use of the banji pattern as background. The banji pattern (its basis is the swastika)  is the oldest type of ornamental motif used for batik.  Red Riding Hood is dressed in European designed clothes and carries a basket over her left arm, which is also European influenced in designed.  This section of the border highlights the incorporation of  sea-creatures including fish and prawns, into the floral border. The fish and prawns are not immediately recognisable as they have been cleverly interwoven with the floral elements.
[Photo Mick Richards] 

Detail 5- this cloth could be given as a present to a young woman expressing the hope that she will be happy in marriage.  The tree is certainly full of life, the birds are singing, the butterflies flutter freely and it is a rich red that holds the work together.
[Photo Mick Richards]  


Maxwell, Robyn J.  Textiles of Southeast Asia: Tradition, Trade, and Transformation.  Periplus Editions (HK) Ltd, 2003 design and National Gallery of Australia and Robyn Maxwell, 2003 text.

Heringa, Rens and Veldhuisen, Harmen C.  Fabric of Enchantment- Batik from the North Coast of Java.  Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Weatherhill, Inc.,1996.

Van Roojen, Pepin.  Batik Design.  Amsterdam: The Pepin Press, 2001.

See you again soon and as always, I would love to hear your comments, thank you.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Pekalongan - Batik Belanda - Buketan Design Style

When the Dutch came to Indonesia, first as traders of the Dutch East India Company in the 17th century and two centuries later as rulers, their presence rapidly became visible in new batik motifs and colours.  Floral decoration, for example, became very popular, and old motifs were mixed with new ones to create a new style of batik: batik Belanda, Dutch batik.

I have structured my analysis of this intriguing work into three sections:

(a) European and Indo-European Influences- what were the key influences of these batik entrepreneurs on Pekalongan batik design style from around 1840?

(b) Analysis of the Work- what are the European design influences adopted by its Peranakan Chinese makers, in this work and when was it made?

(c) The Response of the Peranakan Chinese batik entrepreneurs to batik Belanda and how their responses were incorporated into this work. 

(a) European and Indo-European Influences

In the second half of 19th century Pekalongan emerged as the most important production centre of European and Indo-European batiks, known as batik Belanda.  There were a number of important changes initiated by these designers which resulted in an uniquely new Pekalongan design format, the buketan- large and elaborate bouquets of European stemmed flowers in the badan (the body or main field of a batik cloth) and for a surung, a floral kepala.  The bouquet design (buketan), has been celebrated as being distinctively batik Pasisir ever sense.  Around 1900, the design of large bouquets of flowers surrounded by butterflies and birds was often depicted on a plain background.  This style became the most important fashion for Europeans and Indo-Europeans. These batik tulis works were of exceptional workmanship displaying an astounding palette of up to seven colours and canting work of intensely fine detail.  These works were highly prized by the wealthy and the possession of such communicated one's Dutch links.

In 1845 the first European batik workshop was opened by Carolina von Franquemont, at the age of 23. Her workshop was on the slopes of volcanic Mount Ungaran near the Ungaran River in Semarang.

In the 1870s when the colonial economy became accessible for non-governmental commercial initiatives, other Dutch and Indo-European batik workshops followed.

Highly successful Indo-European designers in Pekalongan included Lien Metzelaar, A.J.F. Jans and the best known and most influential, Lies van Zuylen who worked from the late 19th century until the 1940s. The practice of signing batik tulis became fashionable among the Indo-Europeans during the 1860s in Pekalongan. A signature indicated the origin of the workshop and emphasised the quality and originality of the work.

(b) Analysis of the Work 

[Please click on all images to enlarge]

Detail 1.  The buketan style was soon adopted by the Peranakan Chiniese entrepreneurs.  In this work, instead of a large bouquet of European flowers surrounded by birds and butterflies as seen in the work of Indo-Europeans, the Peranakan Chinese entrepreneur and waxer of this work, have been extremely free and fluid in their interpretation of the buketan motif.  The large bouquet of flowers has been replaced by a very sturdy flowering plant growing in a marsh, surrounded by a smaller version of the plant, grasses and gaily depicted birds and butterflies.  This work is a celebration and what it lacks in intricate craftsmanship, is made up by its joyous spirit.
[Photo Mick Richards]

Detail 2.  This image highlights the range of borders used in the work.  The wavy booh  (bow) inner border that completely surrounds the badan is not symmetrical.  The motif of freely drawn red and cream flowers in the booh which runs  along the lower edge and at the two short ends differ to that in the border along the top edge.  The motif of small flowers and leaves  in this border are more compressed and finer in its detail.  Along the upper and lower  long edges, there is an outer edge (seret) consisting of small vertical stripes, which depict a fence.  At each of the two shorter ends of the cloth there are four borders.  The outer border is made up of small triangles (said to depict arrow heads) which are similar to to those in a kepala.  The 'verticle fence' and the 'arror heads' are said to protect the wearer from unwanted influences while the booh borders are said to provide protection to the badan- the garden of paradise- from outside inferior influences.
[Photo Mick Richards]

This striking and beautiful work, a kain panjang from our collection, has intrigued and amazed us from the moment we first saw it.  It was not only its visual strength of both the motifs and the colours but also it sense of joyous celebration, that caught our attention.  The decision of the waxer (pembatik) to enhance and give all major and minor motifs in the badan a 'halo' effect also struck an accord with us. This effect has been achieved by continuous mark-making around the outline of each motif (details 3 & 5 highlight the use of this technique).  We had not first hand, seen this technique utilised before.  As a result the cloth displays a wonderful exuberance as well as a sense of drama.  There is nothing dainty about the work and it certainly does not display the technical intricacy the Indo-European and Peranakan Chinese are famous for.    

While the composition references the bouquet design (buketan), the drama and boldness of the motifs as well as the sense of freedom in the placement and depiction of the plants (growing in marshy land), their flowers, birds, and butterflies suggests to me there are other influences at play here.  Perhaps it was not made in a Peranakan Chinese workshop!  The outline-shape of the flowers suggests they may be carnations but these strong-stemmed plants may represent the 'tree-of-life' motif.  The motifs are awkwardly drawn and placed against a rich red coloured background that is sparsely dotted with outlines of small leaf shapes.  This style of drawing certainly has not been influenced by the flowing and curving lines of Art Nouveu which had been introduced to the north coast by the Europeans but it certainly signifies happiness, joy, and flourishing life.  The limited use of tananah motifs (filler motifs for the background), may reference the use of clear backgrounds introduced by the Indo-Europeans.

Detail 3.  Around 1900 the European and Indo-European entrepreneurs often depicted the buketan motif on a plain background.  The Peranakan Chinese maker of this cloth may have been influenced by this development, leaving much of the rich red background free of filler motifs (tanahan).  
[Photo Ian Reed]
The designer along with the batikker, has made little use of isen (filler motifs within each motif) except for various combinations of dots including clusters of seven dots within the body of the flowers, birds and butterflies.  There is scarce use of tanahan (the small motifs used to fill the background).   While there is an overall sense of simplicity to the development of each element, for example, the stylisation in the drawing of the flowers, the work still has a strong sense of originality and inventiveness.
The colours and forms of the batik are very cheerful.  The design is composed of seven colours: two tones of red; two of blue; one ochre (sometimes referred to as soga Pekalongan); one cream; and the very unusual taupe colour of the feathery fern-like veins in the leaves on the four large plants.  The waxing of this fern-like effect along with some of that in the borders, is the most intricate in the work.

Detail 4.  This is an unusual use of a taupe colour set against the dark blue ground of the leaf.  The feathery fern-like veins heightens the sense of energy in this work.  The use of the mark-making process as an outline of each motif is clearly visible.  The batikker rather then apply a wax outline as part of the first waxing, has adopted the technique illustrated here.  The batikker has been given much freedom by the workshop owner, to express her own creativity as there are many variations in the waxing process.  This in itself, creates a mystique around the origins of this batik.  
[Photo Ian Reed]

Another indication of the cloth's age can be determined by its border designs. The badan of this cloth is surrounded by a booh (bow) which is not symmetrical: the same design exists on the lower edge of the cloth as well as its two ends.  Across the top edge the floral design of the booh is finer and more dense.  The booh appeared around 1900 and it was about this time that the second inner border, the pinggir, disappeared.  The small vertical stripes (the seret) remain on the outer edge of both the top and lower edges of the cloth.      
In the years between 1840 and 1940, batik Belanda underwent many changes in colour and style.  The Chinese operated workshops in Pekalongan in turn, also made major changes, and went onto influence batik making in near-by centres.
(c) Response of the Peranakan Chinese   

The new styles, decorative innovations and customs were soon adopted by Peranakan Chinese entrepreneurs as seen in the work, above and below.  The Peranakan adopted and popularised the bouquet design (buketan) of stemmed flowers with butterflies and birds against a clear background that was developed by the Indo-European batik makers, and adapted them with different colours and more complex isen and tananah (filler) motifs.(3) These works utilised rich colours including red and blue.  In the late 19th century and early 20th century some of the finest and most technically intricate examples of the batik process have been made in workshops operated by Peranakan Chinese.  Their work was considered superlative for its intense detail, rich colours, and fine workmanship.The Chinese made many contributions but an important one was the use of colours found in Chinese decorative arts, which is dominated by bright colours and to a lesser extent, pastel tints.  Pastel tints were made possible by the introduction of synthetic dyes and it was the Chinese workshops who were the first to use them.

A Peranakan Chinese inspired bouquet design (buketan) of four large flowering plants along-side four smaller versions of the plants surrounded by butterflies and birds which are set against a strong red background dotted randomly with small leaf shapes.
Pekalongan, late 19th century/early 20th century
Skirt cloth kain panjang
Cotton, natural dyes?, batik tulis
106.0 x 255.0 cm
Greg Roberts & Ian Reed Collection
[Photo Mick Richards]

Detail 5 [Photo Ian Reed]

Detail6 [Photo Ian Reed]


Djoemena, Nian S. Ungkapan Sehelai. Batik - Its Mystery and Meaning. Jakarta: Djambatan, 1986.

Heringa, Rens and Veldhuisen Harmen C. Fabric of Enchantment. Batik from the North Coast of Java. Los Angeles: County Museum of Arts, 1996. (Rens Heringa. Batik Pasisir as Mestizo Costume. 46 - 69.  I highly recommend this essay for anyone wishing to develop their knowledge and appreciation of the appearance and meaning of batik Pasisir).

Van Dartel, Daan.  Collectors Collected - Exploring Dutch colonial culture through the study of batik. Tropenmuseum Bulletin 369. Amsterdam: KIT Publishers, 2005.

Ito, Fusami. Javanese Batik: Changing motifs and Techniques. Tokyo: Institute of Oriental Culture, Tokyo University.

Van Roojen, Pepin. Batik Design. Amsterdam: The Pipin Press, 2001.

Chor Lin, Lee. Batik - Creating an Identity. Singapore: National Museum of Singapore and Editions Didier Millet, 2007.

Knight-Achjadi, Judi & Damais, Asmoro. Butterflies and Phoenixes - Chinese Inspirations in Indonesian Textile Arts.Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2006.

Tirta, Iwan. Batik - A Play of Light and Shades. Jakarta: Gaya Favorit Press, 1996.     

Detail 7.  Despite its many variations in style and waxing this cloth must have held great significance for the owner in order for it to still be in the excellent condition it is, after some 110 years.
[Photo Ian Reed]

After 110 years this beautiful batik is still cherished, loved and admired and it will live on to intrigue many, for centuries to come.

 Please Comment - I would love to know your thoughts about this work so in turn, we all can enrich our knowledge and appreciation of this intriguing work . Where does this work belong in the development of Pekalongan's rich batik tradition?


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Batik Road - Pekalongan - The Batik City

Firstly and importantly I wish to apologise to all those regular visitors to my Blog, for this being the first Post since 17 February, 2012.  Perhaps like some of you, I live with chronic pain, the result of occipital neuralgia to the left side of my head.  As I say to my friends, on the good days I Post and on the bad days I go to bed! 

My ongoing passion for batik from the north coast of Java, the Pasisir, is one of the things that brings balance to my life - thank you for returning.

Pekalongan has become one of our favourite batik destinations.  It certainly lives up to its name, Kota Batik, the Batik City of Indonesia.  By 1850 this port city was already an important batik centre and around 1860 Indo-European women began establishing batik workshops here.  More about this later but today it is the people we know like Zahir Widadi the former director of the Pekalongan Batik Museum and batik artists like Dudung Alie Syahbana, Sapuan and Liem Poo Hien and batik workshops like Wirokuto Batik, that make Pekalongan special for us.  Also  it  is Pekalongan's distinctive batik style and motifs that keeps drawing us back to this delightful city.  It was also here that the Japanese-inspired batik style known as Batik Djawa Hokokai developed during World War II.  These highly complex and extremely detailed designs were executed in an unusual range of colours.

Over the coming Posts we will meet these people and visit their workshops and see their work.  The initial Posts will highlight a number of antique works from Pekalongan, that are new additions to our collection.  I would be most grateful if you have any insights into any of these works, to please leave your comments.  Your knowledge will benefit many of us who are still developing our own understanding and appreciation of these magical cloths. 

(Please click to enlarge all images)

Pekalongan, Java, cc. 1890s
Skirt cloth kain panjang
Cotton, natural dyes; batik tulis
[Mick Richards Photography]
(Detail of above - click to enlarge)
(Detail of above - click to enlarge)

This exquisite batik with its perfect repetition of the tableau, closely resembles batik with the Taman Terate or lotus garden theme.  This theme was introduced through European magazines when Japanese art was in fashion in Europe.  Mrs. Lien Metzelaar was the first to introduce the theme into her work.  The theme was adopted by many manufactures including makers of Chinese origin, as with this batik.  Instead of egrets or cranes standing in ponds or swamps here we have five cheerful ducks parading across the landscape.  Separating each bird are free flowing plant forms topped with cascades of flowers, perhaps wisteria.  The cascading flowers are interspersed with flying swallows and butterflies.The white ground is embellished with wavy lines running diagonally from left to right.  In the foreground beneath the tufts of grass and flowers are lines running horizontally across these wavy lines of the back ground, giving the work depth.  A sense of depth is also achieved by placing the base of each plant behind the ducks. The use of the darker blue in the border also gives the work a sense of enclosure.

The outer border on the top and bottom horizontals consist of: a secret, the rows of small vertical lines; and the wider border that surrounds the central field, the badan, is decorated with flowers leaves.  Each end consists of three borders (from inner to outer): the inner border of flowers and leaves; the centre border, the pingger, which is the same width as the secret, contains repeated small diamond shapes and; the outer border consisting of small repeated triangles, not unlike the triangles found in kepalas.  The vertical lines and the triangles are said to represent a fence or a row of arrowheads which provide protection for the wearer.

This is a work that exudes an overwhelming feeling of joy and has a strong sense of prosperity.  The ducks in this work carry the message of marriage happiness.  The butterfly motif with its flowing lines and graceful curves, was introduced by the Chinese.

(Detail of signature - click to enlarge)

The signature, running vertically, is in the top right corner.  It appears to be: KWEE G_ _ _  PN? 

The only Kwee I could identify were: married in 1924, Oey Soe Tjoen's wife was Kwee Tjoen Giok.  She assumed a European-style name , Nettie Kwee; and from the same family as Nettie Kwee there was a batik maker in Pekalongan Kwee Kwie Nio (1910 - 1986), who started a workshop in 1934 and signed Netty Kwee.  This family took over the rights of The Tie Siet in 1970.  Both of these batik makers were producing work later then when this cloth was made.   

If you can recognise who the batik maker of this exquisite cloth is please could you share your knowledge with us all - many thanks.


Rens Heringa's two essays in the catalogue Fabric of Enchantment: Batik from the North Coast of Java,  The Historical Background of Batik on Java and Batik Pasisir as Mestizo Costume, are a rich and wonderful source for anyone wishing to expand their appreciation, knowledge and understanding of batik Pasisir.

Rens Heringa, Harmen C. Veldhuisen, Dale Carolyn Gluckman, Peter Cole.
Fabric of  Enchantment: Batik from the North Coast of Java.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Weatherhill, Inc., New York City,

See you again soon.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Batik Road - H. Mohammed Masina - Cirebon

Cirebon was founded in 1378 by the Muslim ruler Walangsungsang.  It was the only city on the Pasisir in which court life played a significant role, inspiring the rich development of spiritual and artistic expression.  As a result of the city being a vital sea port with links to the east and west, it became a melting pot of the ancient cultures in Indonesia.  Enclaves of Chinese, Arabs and Indians were established, each group adding their own beliefs and local customs.  Cirebon became and still is today, a vibrant multinational community.

Today a visit to the palaces, or keratons, built in the Hindu-Javanese style will provide you a glimpse into this exotic lost world.  The two main palaces are Keraton Kesepuhan and Keraton Kanoman, the sultanates date back to the 17th century.

Iwan Tirta writes that from a sociological point of view, the batiks of Cirebon can be divided into two categories: those for the royal families, batik keratonan, and those for people outside the palace walls, batik kenduruan [Iwan Tirta, BATIK: A Play of Light and Shades, p99, Jakarta: Gaya Favorit Press, 1996].

With the decline of the sultans many of the keraton batik have been lost.  As mentioned in an earlier Post, H. Mohammed Masina and his wife revived some of the sacred royal patterns of the courts of Cirebon.  It actually was the Madmil family who initally recovered some of court patterns but because of the excellent craftsmanship of the Masina workshop, it is given the credit for the recovery.

The 12 different motifs making up the sampler below, are drawn in a rich Chinese blue on a warm cream background.  The line work is very fine and of great clarity.  The figures also possess a sense of movement and rhythm.  In Cirebon, even daily scenes from the court became a motif depicted on a cream background.  There are a range of keraton motifs here that you will recognize: the megamendung, or stormy cloud design; wadas, patterns of  layered rock or coral; the fragrant garden motifs, taman arum, which echoed the medative landscape retreats of Cirebon's rulers; and there are also shapes similar to the gunungang or kayon, a tree of life motif.   

Trusmi near Cirebon
Batik Masina workshop
(H. Mohammed Masina), 1950s
Sampler, Keraton macam
(Top: complete work made up of 12 patterns;
& two details)
Cotton, synthetic dyes; batik tulis
103.0 x 260.0 cm
[Photos: Mick Richards]

Kereta Singa Barong (detail), a i6th century gilded chariot with a trunk of an elephant (Hindu), the head and body of a dragon (Chinese-Buddhist), golden wings (Egyptian-Islamic), and the paws of a tiger.  When being pulled by four white buffaloes, the wings would flap and the tongue would move about.  This is a must see at Keraton Kesepuhan which is Cirebon's oldest kraton, built in 1527 [Photo: Ian Reed].

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Batik Road - Ibu Masina - Trusmi, Cirebon


Ibu Masina - Trusmi - Cirebon, 1960s
Skirt cloth kain panjang
Lenggang kangkung motif
Cotton, synthetic dyes, batik tulis
103.0 x 241.5 cm [Photo: Mick Richards]

Please click on all images to enlarge.

The work above (and detail below), was made in the workshop of Hajj Masina by his wife Ibu Masina in the early 1960s.  They were the parents of Budi Masina who has been highlighted in earlier posts.  Hajj and Ibu were the 4th generation of this renowned batik family in Trusmi, Cirebon.  The name of the motif lenggang kangkung was the inspiration of Hajj's father H. Mohammed Masina, the 3rd generation of the family.  He was also a farmer and gained inspiration for this motif from the fresh looking and verdant growth of his kangkung (water spinach) plants.  If you have visited Indonesia you would certainly have enjoyed kangkung as one of your vegetables.

The resulting motif lenggang kangkung certainly depicts all the characteristics of verdant growth.  These dark and mysterious forms, full of energy, are the embodiment of the sense of freedom obtained when suspended in water.  The irregularity of the placement of these forms across the surface of the kain panjang, amplified by the energy-rich flora motif (tanahan) on the background, add to this overall sense of dynamism.  The whole pictorial surface is alive and there appears to be nothing routine or simplistic in the bold artwork.

Detail of kain panjang with lenggang kangkung motif
[Photo: Mick Richards]

In contrast with this work by Ibu Masina from the 1960s is a kain panjang below made some ten years later by her.  It is far more subtle in both its colours and motif. What heightens its appeal is that the motif is depicted within diagonal bands or dlorong.  These bands along with the tonal variation of the colours within each of these bands establishes a strong sense of optical repetition.  As always with batik made by any of the five generations of the Masina family, this work is of excellent craftsmanship.  In this work Ibu has made use of the combination of traditional browns on a tan background that was typical of the work of H. Mohammed Masina and his wife Bi Masio Narsibo.

Thank you to Budi and Ida Masina and their daughter Dwie for their generous assistance identifying the motifs and the stories behind each of the batiks illustrated.  Thank you also for providing me with the list of names of the five generations of the Masina family and the approximate time each generation operated the workshop in Trusmi.  It all began in 1829 with AP. Adam and Mbok Rad.

Ibu Masina - Trusmi - Cirebon, 1970s
Skirt cloth kain panjang
Patran kembang (many flower tentacles), Babarmas (colour)
Cotton, synthetic dyes, batik tulis
105.0 x 236.0 cm [Photo: Mick Richards]

Detail of kain panjang with patran kembang motif
[Photo: Mick Richards} 

Detail of kain panjang with patran kembang motif
[Photo: Mick Richards]