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Monday, January 10, 2022




1942 - 1945 


This magnificent kain panjang pagi-sore is a wonderful example of the style, batik Djawa Hokokai, produced in Pekalongan especially by Chinese entrepreneurs but also by Indo-European and Indo-Arab business people who were known for the finesse of their work.   The style emerged in response to the aesthetic preferences of Japanese clients during the 1942-1945 occupation of Java.  The filler motifs on the background are extremely complex, delicate and very crowded - tanahan Semarangan style.  The work is executed in a remarkable range of colours including shades of orange, pink, mauve, violet, green, turquoise, red and yellow, colours in favour with the Japanese.

During the Japanese occupation of Java (1942-1945) a short-lived although a distinctively new style of cloth, batik Djawa Hokokai, emerged, in response to the aesthetic preferences of Japanese clients.  This new style emerged out of a form of batik already being produced in Pekalongan.  Alongside Javanese-style background patterns, like the kawonand parang motifs, and Chinese flowers one would discover cherry blossom and chrysanthemum.  These extremely beautiful and ornate cloths were made during very difficult economic times.  The most distinctive quality of this new style of coastal batik was its utilization of exuberant colours in daring combinations like pink and green.  The richness in the colours was achieved by repeated immersion in the various dye baths which also required the wax to be repeatedly removed (plorodan) and then reapplied.

According to Eiko Adnan Kusuma, a batik collector, the technique that was used resembled yuzen, a dyeing technique popular in Japan since 1700.  The result: clear bright colours, motifs emerging in true colours, and a three-dimensional effect that was obtained through effective colour play.  But whereas the three-dimensional effect in yuzen was obtained by the artisan's dexterity in using the brush, in batik Djawa Hokokai it was achieved by the batikker's meticulousness in applying the wax and by adding the finest of fillings (isen-isen).  [1]


As cotton cloth suitable for batik making particularly very fine batik tulis, was in short supply during the war, the composition of batik Djawa Hokokai skirts feature extremely dense and detailed patternsusually filling two diagonal fields.  Each half carried a different pattern that was arranged in the opposite direction to the other, enabling the cloth to be worn with either end exposed, providing the appearance that the wearer owned two different cloths.  This composition is known as pagi-sore (morning and late afternoon).  This was not a new concept having been in existence since the beginning of the 20th century but it was given prominence in batik Djawa Hokokai.  


Detail (a)
Long Djawa Hokokai cloth made for the Japanese market (detail)
Pekalongan, ca. 1942-1945
Skirt cloth kain panjang
Cotton, synthetic dyes; batik tulis
110.0 x 248.0 cm
Greg Roberts & Ian Reed Collection
Photo: Mick Richards

Before discussing this beautiful Djawa Hokokai batik in detail, it will be helpful to revisit the utilisation of the intricate isen-isen and tananah motifs as they are key to this style of batik.   Batik from the Pasisir (north coast of Java), 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 the tiny motifs used to fill-in within the outlines of the key motifs while the tiny tananah motifs fill-in the spaces outside the main motifs, on the background.  It is the isen-isen and tananah motifs that distinguish Indonesian batik from that of other countries, where they are not used. In each region the pengobeng (batikkers or waxers), consider their own version of isen-isen and tananah motifs a condition for what is regarded a superior work. 

A full appreciation of this kain panjang is achieved by first referencing the emergence of Batik Belanda in the 1840s, where isen-isen and tananah motifs were employed to enhance the main motif.  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.  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. 

Pak Iwan Tirta wrote, "In my opinion, it is the isen-isen and tanahan motifs which add to the beauty and mystery of Indonesian batiks.  By breaking and dividing space delineated by the lines of the main motif, the isen-isen provide the subtle shading of colours and softening of lines that make true Indonesian batiks a play of light and shade."  [2]

Full cloth (b)
Long Djawa Hokokai cloth made for the Japanese market
Pekalongan, ca. 1942-1945
Skirt cloth kain panjang 
Cotton, synthetic dyes; batik tulis
110.0 x 248.0 cm
Greg Roberts & Ian Reed Collection
Photo: Mick Richards

Rens Heringa writes:  The kain panjang, worn in the more elegant central Javanese style, gained popularity throughout the 20th century.  Its designs, however, changed and became a fusion of the Europeanized florals with the intricate backgrounds and specific colour combinations that were consistent with Peranakan or Indo-Arabian tastes.  The most complex and vibrant examples of these elaborate styles are the cloths designated Djawa Hokokai, an organisation established by the Japanese as a tool for indoctrinating every Indonesian over fourteen years of age; it ultimately became the cradle of the nationalist movement.  [3]    

Full cloth (c)


The cloth illustrated above & below, typical of a Djawa Hokokai batik, is divided diagonally into two parts distinguished, not by colour, but by background motif.  The butterflies flutter above a stylised kawong motif and the lotus blooms float upon a parang motif.  Both motifs had once been restricted to usage only in the Javanese royal courts.  These motifs were designated as larangan (forbidden, restricted to be used only by the central Javanese courts).  The kawong is an extremely old geometric motif.  It is thought to be derived from an abstraction of the halved fruits of the sugar palm.  The parang is a traditional Javanese court motif of slanting bands or stripes filled with stylised daggers.  

  On first sight it is the colours, the bold composition, and the key motifs of the butterflies and lotus blooms that attract attention.
On closer observation your gaze turns in awe to the brilliant canting skills of the batikkers waxing the Djawa Hokokai cloths, as it is extremely fine and very technically elaborate.  The women batikkers employed to execute the patterns were trained in the intricate and precise application of wax, and an extraordinary delicate stippling and dotting technique was used, especially with some of the wonderfully ornate floral designs.  Djawa Hokokai batik's making required highly skilled hands accustomed to drawing extremely intricate background fillings, as with batik Belanda and batik Cina. 

Within a flower or a leaf it is the isen-isen that create the illusion of colour change.  It is the isen-isen that also creates shades of colour by intensifying or dispersing the fine dots.  This use of a myriad of fine dots enhances the impact of each of the key motifs.
These exuberant cloths, masterpieces, always had a wide floral border, terang bulan, and at least a pair of exquisitely drawn butterflies.  Butterflies are now the main motifs unlike prior to the Japanese occupation and djawa hokokai batik, when they were only used to fill empty spaces.  The terang bulan border, as seen in Full cloth (b) above, travels in both directions from the top right corner and is delineated by its deep purple background.  It embraces the lotus blooms floating across the right half of the cloth.  These sumptuous blooms are also repeated in the embellishment of the terang bulan border itself and across other elements of the cloth.  For example, in the green coloured border running across the base on the left half of the cloth (the butterfly half), also seen in Detail (d) below. 

According to Chinese tradition, a pair of butterflies which appear on this cloth represent two lovers of different social status, whose love was opposed by their parents.  Finally, the lovers decided to die together and to be buried in one grave.  Later they turned into butterflies and flew away together, proclaiming their love.  


Detail (d)
A sense of depth is added to all flowers by the use of darker central areas and shaded filler motifs.  The beautifully executed green border at the base of the left half of the cloth, as seen in Detail (d) above, may not only resembles a booh (bow or wave border), but also may represent the grave from which the two lovers emerged as butterflies. 

Detail (e)

Batik Djawa Hokokai cloths have a head, a body, side motifs (motif pinger), and a seret at the outer side of the head.  These batiks combined the characteristics of pagi sore (morning/late afternoon), terang bulan, and tanahan Semarangan (a style of intricately layered backgrounds). 
In Full cloth (b) above, it is the terang bulan border that dominates the short end, at right.  The short end at left, reveals an intriguing head design- a double row of trees.  As in Detail (e) above, the front row of trees are a much deeper green than those behind enabling a visual sense of depth to be achieved. 

On a quick glance at the cloth this double row of trees may initally appear like a tumpul within a kepala, as would've been the case with a kain panjang kepala tumpal, traditional style, Pasisir.       

Detail (f)

The negative spaces occurring between each of the kawong motifs, (series of repeated dark crosses occurring on the diagonal), as in Detail (f) above and Detail (g) below, are amplified by the decision to repeat the use of the dark purple colour which is also the background colour of the terang bulan border.  This colour's repeated use across the surface of the cloth provides a strong sense of visual unity and harmony while at the same time, makes for an extremely bold design.   

Detail (g)

An additional common factor of all batik Djawa Hokokai cloths is that one half of the background is decorated with a garis miring motif.  This group of motifs covers a number of various patterns, the only common factor being that they run diagonally.  As can be seen in Detail (g) above and Detail (h) below, as the background to the lotus blooms to the right of the butterflies, are the best known of the garis miring designs, the parang designs.  Like the kawong motif, the parang motif has long been the preserve of Javanese royalty.   It certainly is a motif that possesses a strong rhythm. 

Interestingly, the dark purple crosses which occur as the negative space between the kawong motif, also run on the diagonal.  This design element reinforces the the diagonal rhythm of the neighbouring parang motif.  This is further enhanced by every third space between the parallel running rows of parang, being of the deep purple shade, like the crosses.  This is the maker ensuring the overall design is visually balanced, unified and harmonious. 

Detail (h)

Batik Djawa Hokokai cloths certainly are an exuberant burst of colour, vitality, full of life's energy, symbolism and they highlight the brilliant skills of the women batikkers/waxers working in or around Pekalongan located on the Pasisir, the north coast of Java, during the period of the Japanese occupation 1942 - 1945.

Thank you and please keep extremely well.


[1]  Ishwara, Helen; Supriyapto Yahya, L.R.; Moeis, Xenia.  BATIK PESISIR: An Indonesian Heritage - Collection of Hartono Sumarsono, Jakarta: KPG (Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia), 2012, p94.

[2] Tirta, Iwan.  Batik: A Play of Light and Shades, Jakarta, Gaya Favorit Press, 1996, p106.

[3]  Heringa, Rens. Fabric of Enchanment, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California and Weatherhill, Inc., New York City, New York, 1996, p67.


Achjadi, Judi:  The GLORY of BATIK - The Danar Hadi Collection, BAB Publishing Indonesia, 2011.

Djoemena, Nian S.: Batik dan Mitra/Batik and its Kind, Jakarta: Penerbit Djambatan, 1986.

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

Doellah, H. Santosa:  Batik: The Impact of Time and Environment, Jakarta, Dana Hadi, 2002.

Heringa, Rens & Veldhuisen, Harmen C.: Fabric of Enchantment: Batik from the North Coast of Java.  USA: LA County Museum of Art & Weatherhill Inc. 1996.

Tirta, Iwan: Batik: A Play of Light and Shades. Jakarta: PT Gaya Favorit Press. 2009.

Ishwara, Helen; Supriyapto Yahya, L.R.; Moeis, Xenia.  BATIK PESISIR: An Indonesian Heritage - Collection of Hartono Sumarsono, Jakarta: KPG, 2014.

van Roojen, Pipin.  BATIK DESIGN, Amsterdam - Singapore: The Pipin Press, 2001.

Khan Majlis, Brigitte.  The Art of Indonesian Textiles: The E. M. Bakwin Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago/Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2007.

Tumbu Ramelan Collections.  The 20th Century Batik Masterpieces, KR Communications.    



Friday, November 26, 2021




People of the Banyumas regency are considered descendants from the royal families of Yogyakarta and also the Kingdom of Pajajaran in West Java.  Banyumas was considered the outermost township of the Mataram Kingdom.  Their culture was identical to that of the Principalities.  Batik is initially thought to have been an aristocratic occupation in Banyumas to fill personal requirements for this cloth.  Compared to the batiks from other coastal areas/styles, batik Banyumas blended Principality/classical designs with the coastal style including European motifs and colours.  It must be remembered that Banyumas located in western Central Java, is not a coastal town.  Batik Banyumas is commonly known as banyumasan.  It is characterised by its reddish yellow sogan base colour, with golden ivory yellows and very dark blackish blue.  The sogan base colour is similar to the colour produced earlier by Jonas, a batik maker of Dutch parentage in Solo.  The ivory yellow is a tint lighter than that used in Solo.

Harmen C. Veldhuisen wrote about a very similar kain panjang in the Rudolf G. Smend Collection, to the cloth being discussed below, (the only difference between the two cloths appears to be their border variation): The first impression is that of a batik from the Principalities.  The imitation lace border along the right and lower edge indicates however, that this batik was made in an Indo-European batik workshop or copied an Indo-Chinese batik maker.  A second look confirms this opinion.  The bird garuda is drawn in a non-Javanese way. *

[BATIK - Javanese and Sumatran Batiks from Courts and Palaces, Rudolf G. Smend Collection.  Insider Information, Harmen C. Veldhuisen, page 93, 19.  The cloth from the Rudolf G. Smend Collection, also a kain panjang, is illustrated across pages 32 & 33 of this publication].  


Batik cloth with a combination of motifs: mirong (a pair of wings); sawat gurdo (a pair of wings with extended fan-like tail feathers); surrounded by animals on a semen background
Banyumas, ca. 1920
Matheros Skirt cloth kain panjang (detail)
Cotton, natural dyes; batik tulis
105.0 X 264.0 cm
Photo: Mick Richards
Greg Roberts & Ian Reed Collection

The motifs on this cloth (above and below), belong to the group of patterns/motifs/designs known as the  Non-Geometric Free-Form designs.  The most common type of non-geometric motifs, known as semen (from semi, buds or sprouting leaves), covers a huge variety of different patterns which the waxer has great freedom to interpret, provided certain traditional rules are observed.  The common element is the use of leaf-like tendrils for the background.  

There are three main types of semen patterns:

1. Semen or 'sprouting life' pattern consisting only of leaves or buds, is an old Central Javanese court pattern;
2.  As can be seen on this Banyumas kain panjang, motifs depicting animals on a semen background including meru, a batik ornament shaped like a mountain always found in semen designs; and
 3.  As with this Banyumas kain panjang, motifs in which animals and leaves are combined with lar (wings of the mythical Garuda). 

In addition, there are three variations on the lar motif: 

(a) lar (a single wing of the Garuda bird);
 (b) the mirong (a pair of wings), and, 

(c) the sawat gurdo (a pair of wings with extended fan-like tail feathers).

 Traditionally the sawat is one of the ornaments reserved for the highest nobility.  Rouffaer believes it was originally a kind of crest or symbolic talisman of the 17th century Central Javanese Kingdom of Mataram under the great Sultan Agung.

(detail including right-edge border)

The overall style of this Banyumas kain panjang is known as materos *, with its red, blue, and black colours on an ivory background, inspired by Dutch taste.  The various components of the pattern are partially framed in an L-shaped border made up of repeated bunches of three small white blossoms on a red wave-shaped ground.  It is the lines, that make up the border, that have been waxed and the background dyed: conversely, the motifs on the central field are waxed in the negative, which requires a certain skill when drawing without the aid of a paper pattern.   The red and white wavelike materos border, up the right edge and along the long lower edge, is a signature element of batiks from Banyumas.

* Note: The batiks of a niece of Mrs. Catharina Carolina van Oosterom (nee Philips) 1816 - 1900, Mrs. Matheron (nee Willemse), were known as batik matheron or matheros.  The batiks of the other niece of Mrs. Van Oosterom, Miss Willemse, were known under the name batik Wileman.  Many of Miss. Willemse's patterns were derived from European magazines.  These two nieces inherited the batik workshop of their childless aunt, Mrs. van Oosterom.

Harmen C Veldhuisen writes*: Around 1910, via the batik trade in Bandung, batik Banyumas became very popular in Java.  In Banyumas, there were numerous small Javanese batik workshops, imitating the style of van Oosterom-Willemse, co-locating next to the large Intro-Europen batik workshops.  Traders from Bandung placed orders with these Javanese batik workshops, but they also let the van Oosterom-Willemse style be imitated in nearby Ciamis and Tasikmalaya.  Along with Garut these three towns were the batik centres in the Preanger.  Batik workshops from these three centres brought waxers/batikkers from the Javanese and Indo-European batik workshops in Banyumas.  These waxers/batikkers introduced the drawing style and specific isen Banyumas into these batik workshops. 

*(Veldhuisen, Harmen C. Batik Belanda 1840-1940, p. 123). 

Batik Panastroman, as Mrs. van Ossterom batiks were called in Java, were well known in West Java. The typical batik style of Banyumas was inspired by the style of Solo and Yogyakarta.  In Banyumas, however, Mrs. van Ossterom introduced the North Coast red and European motifs on the selendang (shoulder cloth for women) and on the ikat kepala (head cloth for men).  Mrs. van Ossterom was one of the foremost pioneers of Dutch Batik of the time.  She originally opened a batik workshop in Ungaran (Semarang), around 1845 and moved to Banyumas in 1855.    

Semen Gendong motif (Jogya)
After their wedding both husband and wife hoped that their union would be blessed with offspring.  This wish is reflected in batik with the semen gendong motif (above), which expresses their wish for a baby to gendong (carry around in a sarong used as a sling).  

From the publication, BATIK, Pola & Tjorak - Pattern & Motif, Penerbit Djambatan 1966, plate 62 (above) is an example of the Jogja motif, semen gendong.   On first impressions, it bears a strong visual resemblance to the Banyumas kain panjang, under discussion.  While it too consists of both, the mirong (a pair of wings) and the sawat gurdo (a pair of wings with extended fan-like tail feathers), surrounded by animals on a semen background,  the wings and tail feathers differ in their drawn appearance (drawn in a non-Javanese way), and the animals are more abstracted in their appearance compared to those on the Banyumas kain panjang (below). 


While the influences in this kain panjang are Javanese (accentuated by the sawat [or Garuda], the emblem of the court of Yogyakarta), the cloth has been most likely executed in an Indo-European workshop in Banyumas.  

Batik cloth with a combination of motifs: mirong (a pair of wings); sawat gurdo (a pair of wings with extended fan-like tail feathers); surrounded by animals on a semen background
Banyumas, ca. 1920
Matheros Skirt cloth kain panjang
Cotton, natural dyes; batik tulis
105.0 X 264.0 cm
Photo: Mick Richards
Greg Roberts & Ian Reed Collection


I wish to gratefully acknowledge Tina Tabone [TINA TABONE TEXTILE ART] from whom we purchased this beautiful cloth.  I so appreciated our correspondence relating to our shared passion for Javanese batik and also, your total trustworthiness, a plus for anyone when like us, making our/their first batik purchase online.......thank you Tina. 

Personal Note: This year has been life-changing for me with at last, a line in the sand drawn under 20 odd years of very poor health/pain.  Three new & brilliant medical specialists looked at my chronic head pain with fresh and inspired eyes and as a result, I have been pain-free for the last seven months and now back on my Blog, just wonderful.......Life Number Two!
...Thank You and Stay Well Always...

Please, I always greatly appreciate any comments/feedback/insights readers and textile enthusiasts may have as I firmly believe learning, appreciating and understanding is very much, an ongoing and shared process.


DJOEMENA, NIAN S.  Ungkapan Sehelai BATIK Its Mystery and Meaning (bilingual).  Jakarta:  Penerbit Djambatan, 1990.

ELLIOTT, INGER MCCABE.  Batik: Fabled Cloth of Java.  New York:  Clarkson N. Potter, 1984.

VELDHUISEN, HARMEN C.  Batik Belanda 1840 - 1940: Dutch Influence in Batik from Java:  Histories and Stories.  Jakarta:  Gaya Favorit, 1993.

SMEND, RUDOLF G. (Editor).  Javanese and Sumatran Batiks from Courts and Palaces, Rudolf G. Smend Collection.  Koln:  Galerie Smend, 2000.

ACHJADI, JUDI (Text by).  The GLORY of  BATIK, The Danar Hadi Collection.  Jakarta:  BAB PUBLISHING INDONESIA, 2011.


ANDERSON, B. R. O. G. (English Text).  BATIK, Pola & Tjorak - Pattern & Motif.  Djakarta: Penerbit Djambatan, 1966.

FRASER-LU, SYLVIA.  Indonesian Batik, Processes, Patterns and Places.  Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991.

ACHJADI, JUDI (Editor).  BATIK: Spirit of Indonesia.  Yayasan Batik Indonesia, 1999. 

HERINGA, RENS; VELDHUISEN, HARMEN C.  Fabric of Enchantment: Batik from the North Coast of Java.  Los Angeles, Los Angeles Country Museum of Art, 1996.

LIN, LEE CHOR.  BATIK; Creating an Identity.  Singapore: National Museum of Singapore and Editions Didier Millet, 2007.

DOELLAH, H. SANTOSA.  BATIK: The Impact of Time and Environment.  Danar Hadi.


Thursday, November 18, 2021




Fishing villages in the vicinity of the town of Indramayu developed a bold, decorative style of batik with motifs depicting local flora and fauna.  The motifs/designs represented in the following three cloths  from the Batik Paoman Art workshop, are:

Jarot asem or Javanese tamarind motif,

Iwak etong or trubus fish motif, &

Kapal laju or fast sailing ship motif.  

(In Cirebon this motif is called Kapal kandas or the heavily laden 'ship aground' motif, symbolising maturity).

The Batik Paoman Art workshop was founded by Mrs. Hj. Siti Ruminah Sudiono.

Indramayu, like Cirebon, was once an important harbour for the inter-island and international trade.  The two towns have close cultural relationships and family ties, a result of being in close reach of each other.  As a result some of their batiks are similar both in appearance and interpretation, like Kapal kandas and Kapal laju.  Simple batik is made for local consumption by fishermen's wives with designs influenced by the sea life that gives them sustenance.


(Please click on images to enlarge)

Batik with Jarot asem or Javanese tamarind motif
Paoman near Indramayu
Batik Paoman Art workshop, 2000
Skirt cloth kain sarong (detail)
Cotton, synthetic dyes, batik tulis
103.0 X 191.0 cm
(Waxer - Tarsini)
Photo: Mick Richards
Greg Roberts & Ian Reed Collection


Batik with jarot asem or Javanese tamarind motif
Paoman near Indramayu
Batik Paoman Art workshop, around 2000
Skirt cloth kain sarong 
Cotton, synthetic dyes, batik tulis
103.0 X 191.0 cm
Photo: Mick Richards
Greg Roberts & Ian Reed Collection

This motif is called Jarot asem (Javanese tamarind motif) as it depicts the leaves and pods of this plant.  The tamarind has both culinary and medicinal applications and is commonly grown in many parts of Java.


A coastal town not far west of Cirebon, Indramayu has a strong Chinese input.  The waxes are women whose family's livelihood is derived from the ocean.  The trubos fish was found in the past in great quantities, in the ocean around Indramayu.  Thus, the ocean is evident in many of its motifs/patterns, like this one with trubus fish amongst the waterweed and the occasional, very large centipede.  In Chinese iconography the fish stands for wealth, while the poisonous centipedes protects against misfortune.  

Batik with design featuring sea-creatures and poisonous centipedes
Paoman village near Indramayu
Batik Paoman Art workshop, around 2000
Skirt cloth kain panjang (detail)
Cotton, synthetic dyes; batik tulis
104.5 X 252.0 cm
(Waxer - Cinayan)
Photo: Mick Richards
Greg Roberts & Ian Reed Collection.


Batik with design featuring sea-creatures and poisonous centipedes
Paoman village near Indramayu
Batik Paoman Art workshop, around 2000
Skirt cloth kain panjang
Cotton, synthetic dyes; batik tulis
104.5 X 252.0 cm
Photo: Mick Richards
Greg Roberts & Ian Reed Collection


The design Kapal laju ('fast sailing ship') expresses the hope that everything in a person's life will run smoothly and without hindrance.  Initially this motif was associated with the palace traditions of the nearby town of Cirebon.

The patterns have been executed in thin lines against white background.  Large sections of the cloth had to be covered with wax, leaving only narrow openings for the dye to penetrate fibres and to create the contours of the designs.  The workmanship is significant when one remembers that it is the background that is drawn in wax, and not the individual lines of each of the figures.

Batik with Kapal laju motif meaning 'fast sailing ship'
Paoman near Indramayu
Batik Paoman Art workshop, around 2000
Skirt cloth kain panjang (detail)
Cotton, synthetic dyes; batik tulis
105.0 X 241.0 cm
(Waxer - Jamiah)
Photo: Mick Richards
Greg Roberts & Ian Reed Collection

Batik with Kapal laju motif meaning 'fast sailing ship'
Paoman near Indramayu
Batik Paoman Art workshop, around 2000
Skirt cloth kain panjang
Cotton, synthetic dyes; batik tulis
105.0 X 241.0 cm
Photo: Mick Richards
Greg Roberts & Ian Reed Collection

When you set out on your journey along the very beautiful north coast of Java, the Pasisir, I would highly recommend you include dropping into and staying a while in Indramayu.  Its people and batik will not disappoint and you will receive a very warm welcome indeed just as we did.



Achjadi, Judi (text by)
The Danar Hadi Collection.

Achjadi, Judi (editor)
Spirit of Indonesia.

Elliot, Enger McCabe
Batik: Fabled Cloth of Java.
Clarkson N. Potter, Inc. /Publishers, 1984.

Djoemena, Nian S.
Its Mystery and Meaning.
Penerbit Djambatan, 1990.

Wronska-Friend, Maria
poetics & politics.
Caloundra Regional Gallery, 2010.


Sunday, November 14, 2021






Batik kelengan, used as a mourning garment
Paoman village near Indramayu
Antika Mukti workshop, 2000
Skirt cloth kain panjang (detail)
Cotton, synthetic dyes; batik tulis
104.5 X 242.0 cm
Photo: Mick Richards
Greg Roberts & Ian Reed Collection

Monochrome, dark coloured cloth is known as batik kelengen and worn as a mourning garment. Flying phoenixes placed among flowers and vines replicate on cotton the lok can design of the silks favoured by the Chinese community of Java.


The motif on this cloth is known as burung Huong (Phoenix) motif which proudly exhibits its Chinese influence. Perhaps the repeated use of red and in the case of this illustrated batik, blue, in batik from Indramayu was encouraged by the Chinese, for whom red symbolised fertility, happiness, good luck; blue meant sadness, mourning, and death.  In the Qing dynasty a flying phoenix became the emblem of the empress, thus a symbol of femininity and fertility.  

The batik of Indramayu is often referred to as Dermayon.  The fishermen's wives batiked while their husbands were away at sea, sometimes for as long as three or four months, in order to supplement their incomes.  For this reason they did not wish to make batiks that would take too much time to complete.  They would use a large canting on plain cloth and had very little filling of either the motifs or the background, on their batiks.  To fill the empty spaces they made cocohan (tiny dark dots) with a utensil called the complongan, shaped like a comb of sharp needles used to prick a layer of wax that covers the whole cloth, prior to the dyeing of it.  The dye penetrates the small holes and these dots take on the colour of the dye.  This myriad of small dots enhances the cloth's overall sense of detail and level of complexity. 

Court-influenced batik evolved in regions especially touched by or involved in the history of the Mataram kingdom in the 17th century, among others Indramayu, Cirebon, Garut and Banyumas.  The batik styles of Indramayu do include court-influenced batik.  In these times, this region, which is also called Dermayu, was a part of the kingdom of Galuh.  The batik-making culture was already an established part of of life in Dermayu, generated by merchants from Lasem trading in natural indigo, nila/tom. 


Hence, batik Dermayon is similar to Lasem batik in both design and production technique.  Not only is the cocohan technique also used as background filling but also the dyeing process is the same, utilising natural indigo, nila, giving batik Dermayon a unique character: batik with the application of a single colour only (kelengan).

(It is truly wonderful to be back on my Blog.  After many many years now good health has been returned.  I hope all is terrific for each and everyone of you.  I am so looking forward to returning to magnificent Java and visiting friends and batik workshops along the Pasisir.)



Elliot, Inger McCabe
Batik: Fable Cloth of Java.
ClarksonN. Potter, Inc./Publishers,1984

Wronska-Friend, Maria
Batik of Java: poetics & politics.
Caloundra Regional Gallery 2010.

Heringa, Rens; Veldhuisen, Harmen; Carey, Peter
Fabric of Enchantment: Batik from the North Coast of Java.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1996.

Nian S. Djoemena
Ungkapan Sehelai
BATIK Its Mystery and Meaning.
Penerbit Djambatan, 1986.

Doellah, H. Santosa
The Impact of Time and Environment.
Headline Creative Communications 2002.

Titra, Iwan
Batik, A Play of Light and Shades.
PT. Gaya Favourite Press, Jakarta, 1997.

van Hout, Itie (ed)
BATIK - Drawn in wax.
Royal Tropical Institute - Amsterdam / KIT Publishers - Amsterdam. 


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!