Batiks from Indonesia
The batik technique reached its greatest heights of creativity in the islands of Southeast Asia, especially Indonesia. As with other textiles from this region, batik cloth is also rich in symbolism, with certain designs and colors connected with specific ritual or social functions, whether worn or presented as a gift. Maroon batik, for example, is reserved for court use in Java. Certain other traditional motifs found in Javanese batiks also indicate the rank of the textile's owner.
The ornate, flowing designs found in batiks are achieved through a slow and tedious process of applying wax to a cloth so that when dyed the waxed patterns will resist the color. Each time the cloth is dyed a different color, more wax is applied until finally the wax is removed by boiling water. Traditionally, the wax was drawn on the cloth by means of a small copper cup with one or more spouts projecting from its base calling a canting. In the mid-19th century, however, the Javanese batik industry was revolutionized by the cap, a device made of thin sheets of copper and wire which is dipped in wax and then stamped on the cloth. Although this speeded up the batik process, the canting was never entirely abandoned: it has simply been reserved for the finer details.
Javanese batiks were always intended to be worn as articles of dress before the industry also started to cater to the Western market in the twentieth century. The batiks on view in this gallery are all completely untailored and would have been wrapped around the body in a variety of manners in the different regions of the country. Sometimes the cloth was elaborately folded before being worn. Generally speaking, sarongs are skirt-cloths divided into two separately pattterned and colored fields while kain painjangs are characterized by an overall pattern. Both types are worn by men and women. The long and slender slendang is worn either as a scarf or shawl, or wrapped more loosely to serve as a carry-all for babies or parcels.