Tradition and Innovation
Batik is the Javanese term for a resist-patterning technique in which wax is drawn or stamped on cloth before it is dipped in dye. In the hands of Javanese artists and entrepreneurs, this technique produced textiles which were famed throughout Indonesia and Southeast Asia – indeed, by the early 20th century, throughout the world.
Batik-making became increasingly important in Java during the nineteenth century. Two areas became known for widely differing styles: Central Java, and the Pasisir, or North coast region. For the Javanese, the designs and colors associated with these styles could reveal such characteristics as ethnicity, gender, age, marital status, and social rank.
Tradition is a strong element of Javanese batiks. While batik textiles were popular for wearing apparel throughout Java, certain designs were traditionally reserved for use only by the nobility in the courts of Central Java. The culture of the courts also influenced color: Central Javanese batiks favor sober dark blue and a wide range of browns.
Pasisir batiks were, from the beginning, more open to innovation. Java’s first points of contact with the outside world were the towns along the North coast, centers of trade and immigration. India, China, the Middle East, and the Netherlands were important trading partners from the 17th to 20th centuries, and there were large populations of Chinese and Arab traders and immigrants, Dutch colonials, and mestizo, or mixed parentage, Javanese. All of these cultures influenced batik design, bringing new motifs and colors to mix with the old.
Each of the textiles in this exhibition tells the story of a particular tradition or innovation within Javanese batik in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Although the artists whose work is displayed here are unknown, the work itself testifies to the vibrant culture that fostered their creation.