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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.