May 22, 2018

Arabic Calligraphy in Dutch traditional wear

Summer apron from former Dutch island Marken
Dated 1920-1940
collection Textile Research Center

Searching for some examples of Calligraphy Batiks, I came across this piece in the online collection of the Textile Research Center. A Summer apron from former Dutch island Marken, in Dutch "zomerboezeltje", made from what appeared to be Calligraphy Batik. What a remarkable combination! So when Modemuze asked me to write an article for their FashionClash Festival collaboration blogpost-series, this apron seemed to be the perfect match, or clash, to write about. [1].

Calligraphy Batik

Batik is a resist dyeing techniek in which hot wax is used to create patterns on fabric. Calligraphy Batik, or Besurek Batik, is a style or type of Batik within the Indonesian tradition. These Batiks, often blue with white patterns, are full of signs recognizable as Arabic or Islamic Calligraphy. They were made on Java (in cities like Cirebon and Demak) and intended for the Sumatran market.[2] On Sumatra Islam was introduced in the 11th century. The style of the calligraphy used on Besurek Batik looks a lot like calligraphy from the Ottoman Empire (1299-1922), now Turkey, and it is plausible that the texts on Calligraphy Batiks were copied from these kinds of handwritten calligraphy.

Calligraphy Batiks are seen as talismans and give protection to the wearer. In most museum collections you'll find Besurek Batiks in the size of a headscarf.[3] These headscarfs were probably worn during prayers and rituals. There are also Calligraphy Batiks known in other sizes like sarongs, banners or even jackets with on it the soerat al-ihklaas – a verse from the Koran which would give the wearer protection.[4] Besurek Batik in sarong size weren't meant to be worn as such, they were used as shrouds or to wrap around important things like a Koran.

Styled texts

On old Besurek Batiks the texts are readable or recognizable as the Arabic saying Bismillah or as other prayers. Sometimes texts are styled into the shape of an animal or flower. A lion stands for Ali, a bird for Allah and Mohammed is depicted as a horse.[5] This form of zoomorphic calligraphy or zoomorphism is a way of depicting live animals without them being directly recognizable as such. The Koran disallows idolisation: within the Islamic Art its quite common to not depict humans or animals.[6]

Christian grapes and Arabic Batik motifs 

Back to the apron from the Textile Research Centre (TRC) collection, because: How does Arabic Calligraphy end up on an apron worn as part of the traditional wear on Marken?

The apron, called 'boezel' in Dutch, is a typical example of wear commonly used on former island Marken before the Second World War. [7] Children had within this traditional wear their own 'fashion'. Boys would wear girls clothing, including this type of apron as long as they "went in the skirt" (“in de rokkies gingen” in Dutch)[8]

Between the age 5 and 7 boys started wearing pants. The age depends on achieved nighttime dryness of the children. Girls would wear red and white chequered aprons, while boys would wear dark blue aprons with a white pattern. The 'boezels' of the boys in museum collections often have a bunch of grapes om them. I found this motif also on other clothing items from Marken and even as curtains for a bedstead.


A bunch of grapes has many meanings, among them fertility, but in this case it is more likely to be linked to Christianity. A bunch of grapes can be a symbol of the Last Supper and the blood of Christ, similar to the sacramental wine.

The population of Marken is mainly Protestant and this is expressed through their traditional wear in different ways. Not only the grapes, also in other parts of their clothing: they change it on Sunday and to go to church, for different celebrations or stages of mourning.
Between Pentecost (May-June) and St. Martin's Day (11 November) the Summer apron is being worn. These blue with white aprons for boys are in all kinds of grape-motifs. Later it seems all kinds of blue with white motif fabrics were welcome to be turned into Summer aprons.[9]  I found one with a chequered motif, one with a very fine floral motif and a couple with Batik-like motifs [10] and of course the one with Arabic Calligraphy.

Starting left corner clockwise: 
apron with herons (TRC 2016.0448f); 
apron with Calligraphy Batik-motif (TRC 2009.0048); 
insides of sleeves (TRC 2010.0463a-b); 
apron with Vlisco-motif of Star of David (TRC 2016.0720)

Imitation and original 

I visited the TRC in Leiden to see the Calligraphy Batik-apron and other pieces from their collection. The TRC has an interesthing textile collection with all kinds of techniques and traditional wears. The requested items were sorted from the depot and were put neatly on a board covered with fabric. I was free to take photos and to touch them!

To my surprise the apron turned out not to be a Batik after all. It is an imitation Batik. Another apron I requested also turned out to be a imitation Batik. I recognized the motif of a Vlisco Wax Print I have at home. A Star of David is surrounded by leaves with a craquelé effect on the background.
So the Calligraphy Batik from the TRC is a copy of a copy of a copy: first handwritten writings or calligraphy from the Ottoman Empire, then an Indonesian Batik and then an imitation Batik or in other words Wax Print.

Detail of apron from the TRC collection
 (TRC 2016.0720)

When Batiks are copied to make a pattern for a Wax Print, the pattern changes a little and become less readable. In the case of the Calligraphy Batik it would have been interesting if it still was readable. And if I could link it to an actual text or prayer which would tell us more about the use within the Islamic belief. I also thought if I could trace it back to the original Batik on which this design was based, I could figure out when and how it got on Marken. I found an original Batik before on which Vlisco based a Wax Print, so I started searching.[11]

Kain panjang ‘batik tulis arab’
Dated 1900-1950
collection Asian Art Museum in San Francisco

I actually found the original Batik in an online catalog, image above. The pattern is clearly the same, even the mirrored calligraphy placed in a triangle. I assumed the mirroring was a printing error, or a design solution to make a repeating pattern, but it  is actually already in the original Batik.

I haven't gotten extra information yet on this Batik, I will definitely keep on searching. The story isn't told completely yet, but what a story it already is. This apron takes us on a journey from the Ottoman Empire, to Indonesian Sumatra, through the Vlisco factory in Helmond to the former island Marken.

Two religions onto one apron came together in an unusual way. Is it a clash or a match, who knows?

For more:

See the original post on Modemuze for more photos

Check out the project ‘Fake Calligraphy’ by Ada van Hoorebeke and Maartje Fliervoet in collaboration with Manoeuvre in Gent (Belgium), show at WIELS in Brussel.

Read also previous blogpost ‘Where Batik Belongs’ on The journey to Batik about artist Ada van Hoorebeke

[1] This blogpost was written as part of the series 'Fashion My Religion!' in collaboration with FASHIONCLASH Festival
[2] Nowadays Besurek Batiks are made on Sumatra in Palembang and Jambi 
[3] Find more examples of Calligraphy Batiks in the collection of Stichting Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen en het Wereldmuseum with search words ‘Kalligrafie Batik’.
[4] More on the jacket online Believed is that this and other similar jackets were worn by warriors, or against the Dutch on Sumatra during the Aceh War (1873–1914), or when Indonesia became independent.
[5] Chapter 8 ‘Islamic talisman, the calligraphy batiks’ by Fiona Kerlogue in the book 'Batik, Drawn in Wax'.
[6] ‘Turn Of A Century’ on this blog with nice examples of Islamic influence on Batik. The heads of the people on the batik are turned into flowers.
[7] For more on the traditional wear of Marken, check out the second episode of Community Dressing on YouTube.
[8] From the book ‘Marken’ by Dr. P.J. Kostelijk and B. De Kock.
[9] Examples in the online collection of Modemuze with search word ‘boezel’.
[10] Apron, collection Zuiderzeemuseum, objectnr 021828. Apron for boy, collection Zuiderzeemuseum, objectnr 012284. Apron, collection Zuiderzeemuseum, objectnr 012285. Apron, collection Textile Research Centre, objectnr TRC 2016.0720.
[11] My previous Modemuze post ‘Batik ‘Tiga Negeri’ & de Java Print ‘Good Living’ in Dutch, on my blog 'Good Life II' in English.

With special thanks to Textile Research Center & artist Ada van Hoorebeke

April 21, 2018

Pattern Edition Batik Statement: Pagi-Sore

Happy Hari Kartini! 
The 21st of April is a special day for me, not only because we celebrate this Javanese princess birthday, but also because I started my blog on this date 9 years ago. Nine years, I can't believe I'm blogging this long and can't believe I'm heading towards 10 years! 

Last year I started my Pattern Edition Batik Statement series and was planning to do more, but my health got in the way. The booklet I promised to be made is also on hold. I still want to make it, but I need some budget to do so. So please pre-order at sabine{@}, so I can make it happen!! 
But let's not talk about what didn't happen, let's share what did!
Nine years of blogging and 6 years of Batik Statements, two actual journeys to Batik and the first Wastra Weekend together with Marlisa of animal park Taman Indonesia. I started blogging last year also for Modemuze and very happy I did so!  

Last Monday I went with my honey to the exhibition 'Van Gogh & Japan' at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. I haven't been there in a long time. I had to see this exhibition, because his work inspired by Japan had a significant impact on me. I made a school project when I was 16 about Japanese woodblock printing and got interested in how it influenced Van Gogh's work. I have had this poster of his version of a Geisha for ever and it went with me from house to house. 
When I got reminded by Social Media about a work I made 7 years ago, I started thinking on what works I made inspired by Vincent and it turned out there were many
The last one was my design for a Pagi-Sore Batik. Batik representing Day and Night on one cloth. This way of designing a Batik was a clever way of incorporating two designs onto one cloth, so you could change your look during the day. I loved how it was also translated in the design by showing light and darkness, beginnings and endings, life and death. 
I designed the Batik in 2011, see 'Work in progress 'Difficult Time'. The idea behind it was to learn how a Batik design was made and how patterns change when made with actual canting. I was researching then, as I am now, Batik influenced by Indo-European entrepreneurs. I was curious to see what would happen if I designed a "European painting" and let this be made into a Javanese Batik. Would there be a miss-communication or re-interpretation of the patterns I drew?
I wanted to use Sunflowers, because of the obvious Van Gogh connection, but also because it is secretly such a global flower. I also wanted to include our way of seeing Europe, the Holidays to France with all the Sunflowers standing in rows pointing their heads towards the Sun. Next to that I wanted to incorporate growth, next to waiting; patience, next to strength. By repeating rows and rows of Sunflowers, growing & blooming, next to faded Sunflowers which feed garden birds through the winter months. 

After I made the painting, I traced it onto paper and send it to Pak William Kwan who would give it to the pembatiks of Jeruk. It was almost a year later that I got the first photos of the Batiks, two batiks made after my design! I believe they arrived by post even months after that. As many of my projects, they take time and I was happy to exhibit the Batiks for the first time at the beginning of this year at Taman Indonesia during our first Wastra Weekend (next Wastra Weekend 23 & 24 February 2019). Still haven't showed it together with the original painting, but I'm sure a perfect place will present itself over time.

Back to Monday. I thought it would be cool to pose with the Pagi-Sore Batik between the paintings at the Van Gogh museum. But being tackled by security didn't seem to be the best thing to do on a Monday, so Koen took a picture of me outside, after our visit. The picture this blogpost starts with. This photo inspired me to make a new Pattern Edition Batik Statement: Pagi-Sore.

I'm looking forward to the 10th year of my journey to Batik and wish to make a next actual journey to Batik (still only in wanting, not yet planned). 
So 9 years have passed of my quest, my exploration and research on Batik. The history and the future, the inspiration and the fashion, the heritage in other textiles like wax prints and how it is all connected through our (Dutch) colonial past. 
In what extra way would you, dear reader, like me to celebrate this 10th year of blogging? Please share your ideas and requests in the comments below! 
And which topics I should write about more? Let me know! 
My journey is made possible by your feedback, reads, shares, comments and motivation! So thank you, terima kasih and dankjewel! 

For more about my Batik design in the previous post 'Difficult Time'

For more on my work as an artist go to

March 27, 2018

A quest through Wax - Meet Addoley Dzegede

'Happy Family' by Addoley Dzegede

It’s not every day you learn about interesting, inspiring, brave new Art and meet the artist shortly after that. And then find out you connect on so many levels. So time to introduce Addoley Dzegede to you.

Addoley’s Art has two general themes; Home, what feels like home, and hybrid identities, being two things at the same time, but also being none of these things. In both themes Addoley works with personal and more global inspired stories. Her works are little stories built up from a mixture of anecdotes, memories, facts and interviews. Appearance and prejudice are returning subjects. On one hand her work is an active search on her roots, her history and her view on this, at the same time it's about being confronted by others with questions and thoughts about where she is from, how she got her name and other personal things people feel free to ask. Or as she mentioned in our talk: Taking the history or materials of a place I lived or visited and merge it in with my personal history that I always carry with me because of the way I look.

'Everybody you know is here' Addoley Dzegede

I met Addoley online when she was making her interpretation of the Vlisco classic ‘Happy Family’ for the installation ‘Everybody you know is here’. The installation shares the story about Addoley’s mother. She wanted to find out why she moved to Ghana. Her mother had not really ventured far from Cleveland before. She had been to some other cities and states, but never out of the country. So it was a big step to take as a young woman, to join the Peace Corps and move to Ghana. In the installation an interview with her mother interacts with more symbolic objects, like books she mentions and a Wax Print. Addoley wanted to include the Vlisco classic ‘Happy Family’ because of its meaning, as an object that shares a global heritage, but also because of what the pattern on the cloth tells. (Read more about that in my previous post  ‘The chicken and the egg’).
She wanted to buy a piece, but didn’t because she thought it to be too expensive at that time. She decided to make her own interpretation of ‘Happy Family’. She wanted it to look similar to an actual Wax Print, so silkscreen printing didn’t seem right. She decided to buy materials for Batik instead and started. Looking back it seems like a ridiculous plan, because it took her 3 months to make, but I’m happy she did!
When we met last Summer, I asked her to bring her ‘Happy Family’ and it is so good!
I can’t believe she made it without any experience. And I know what I’m talking about, it is such a hard technique and I love how she used and kept using it in her work. 

Addoley with her 'Happy Family' at Jansen, a Wax Print maker & seller in Helmond (NL)

Addoley work isn’t medium specific. For every project she looks for the medium that fits best. So often it involves learning new skills. She worked before with ceramics, silkscreen printing, video and made artist books. Recently she started using the technique Batik. 
It started first, as mentioned above, as a way of replacing or copying Wax Print, since it has its origin in Javanese Batik. (Read more on this in my previous post ‘Wax Prints are based on Javanese Batiks’) She likes using Wax Prints and Batik, because these materials have the same duality, the same hybrid identity as she has herself and which is expressed through her work.

‘Happy Family’ was my own take on it, it was inspired by it, but it is not an exact copy. Creating my own patterns with their own meaning. What intrigues me in Wax Prints is that they are not necessarily named in the factory. In different regions {in West Africa} people give them different names. So I’m doing my own process of naming and creating designs.

‘obama ọlọba’ by Addoley Dzegede

A wonderful and at the same time uneasy work by Addoley is ‘obama ọlọba’. An Indigo printed cloth, similar in lay-out and style as an Nigerian Adire cloth. It shows a portrait of Barack and Michelle Obama. Their portrait is surrounded by exotic looking symbols like pineapples, leaves and elephants, but also by stars, a statue-of-liberty looking torch and eagles. In capital letters is written: “On the 2nd fl of our house w/ lrg window behind us heard the official announcement obama is the 1st black president looked at each other yelled + immediately ducked suddenly felt people are watching us + we are a target hide!”. Addoley explained to me she made the cloth to explain something that is hard to talk about. “I use Art to say things I normally can’t say, not that I couldn’t say it, but I want to say it without saying it. The Indigo cloth is a short story on how I felt when Obama was elected. It was something I thought about a lot, and it was something me and my sister talked about. Our first reaction was fear. When he won we thought something bad would happen to us. Or to him. So it's that type of thing you don’t really talk about. It was something that constantly follows me, so I end up putting in my work.”
For me this is a really confronting piece. I don’t know the fear she is talking about, but I can understand and feel it through this work. So I’m happy she using this form to express her thoughts, feelings and experiences and in the process educating me.

'The constellation of my genealogy' by Addoley Dzegede

Addoley wanted to become an artist from a young age. She studied Fine Art. But it was 3 years ago she re-started her art career with a better view on what that should be. “I now actively started pursuing options which allow me to make new work. I don’t want to feel it's pointless what I’m doing, it need to have an audience”. The aim is an actual fulltime Art practice. She is now in an artist-in-residence allowing her to work and create, teach and experience what that could be like.
I recognise this quest(ion), this struggle very well. Lately I’m struggling a lot with what to make, not that I don’t have ideas, but more the wanting to have a place, a point, to show it. The struggle or question for me is where does my Art start and were does it end. Am I an artist if I’m writing, if I’m giving a talk, walking through nature. For me personally I don’t feel a difference, because all is me.  But for the outside I feel I need to separate these things, place them in boxes, explain them, even make a choice between them. As always, the path I think I have to choose, turns into a highway and before I know it, I’m doing what I thought I should leave behind me. There isn’t that much choosing to be done as I would like there to be. It is more about creating and getting opportunities. The opportunities that allows me to make, share, and to be. I started to use my blog more and more as a tool to learn from people in my field. It allows me to ask questions I ask myself and learn how things work in different creative fields. 

Addoley is working towards an exhibition at the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis (USA). 
She is making her own Wax Prints that specifically reference histories of St. Louis. Some are general knowledge, others are more specific. The titles will explain what the reference is. For example, a brick pattern gets the title ’37 21’. ’37 21’ is the number of a building that used to exist across the street from the museum that was torn down a year ago. Also St. Louis has a history in producing bricks, it was a big industry. These two stories come together in this Wax Print.
Another work is a Soft Sculpture Necklace of 45 beads on the floor. The enlarged beads made from textile connected with a cord will look like buoys. They refer to the history of trade beads. These beads are often called African trade beads, but they were made in Europe and used for trading with, and trade for people. They are in the same family as Wax Prints; they are seen as African, but are made in Europe.

Last December I got a package from Addoley. In it a Soft Sculpture Bead made from the Lady Africa Wax Print fabric (see previous post The Lady Africa Wax Print). 
So a little sneak preview of what the beads will look like. I’m really looking forward seeing the final installation!

Addoley’s exhibition ‘Addoley Dzegede: Ballast’ will be held from May 11th (opening night) till August 19th at Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis.

For more visit

March 20, 2018

Europalia - Power and other things at BOZAR

My second visit to one of the Europalia exhibitions was mixed with joy and surprise. I made a second visit to the growing installations at WIELS, looking forward to the next step in the work by Ada van Hoornebeke and Maartje Fliervoet & seeing my beans grow. I started my morning with receiving a gift bag by Europalia which I won entering a competition online. The bag included a wonderful purple umbrella and a miniature boat of which that I saw the original later in Liège.
I just finished reading the biography of Gerret Pieter Rouffaer (1860-1928) by Frank Okker to help me with my research. His life and legacy is something I'm exploring now to find out more about Batikmaker Carolina Josephina von Franquemont (1817-1867). So when I entered the exhibition 'Power and other things' fully expecting "modern art", I was pleasantly surprised entering at 1865 with two paintings by Raden Saleh (1811-1880). It was as if I continued in the timeframe I already was fully immersed in. And not only that, with strong markers, pieces from history, that matched the storylines in my head. 
The paintings by Raden Saleh show the strength and power of the Merapi volcano. One shows an eruption at day, one at night. When I was on Java in 2016 Merapi was blowing smoke the whole time. The Merapi is a very visible marker, so in one way it was for me the 'I'm almost home' point, because Sleman was my temporary home away from home, at the other hand it was a relief that every time I returned it didn't erupted. Raden Saleh's paintings visualise the eruptions both beautifully and terrifyingly well.

Merapi, Eruption by night by Raden Saleh in 1865
Collection Naturalis, Leiden

Merapi Eruption by daytime by Raden Saleh in 1865
Collection Naturalis, Leiden

Next up was Jan Toorop (1858-1928). Where Raden Saleh represent the Javanese artist getting praise outside Indonesia and more specifically in the Netherlands for showing us true Javanese culture. Jan Toorop is the Javanese born-artist getting praise for being Dutch...He left an interesting body of work in which his roots clearly shine through, however he is always seen as an Dutch symbolic artist with a interest in Indonesia. It really emphasizes the Dutch view on their colonies and the people that were a direct result of these colonies. By only looking at the Dutch, it feels like there is no room for this shared heritage, this mixed history and what it meant. 
There were different wondreful works on display and a photo album showing portraits of Jan Toorop. My favourite work had to be Toorop's Batik Statement. The young artist, 22 years old, sitting in room covered with batiks, surrounded by different objects, looking at the ground as if lost in thoughts. 

Self portrait in Studio wearing Javanese dress
by Jan Toorop in 1880
Collection Gemeentemuseum Den Haag

The photo I started this post with is of a tile tableau designed by Jan Toorop in 1900. I know this image as long as I can remember. It is always used when showing the "fusion" of East & West ("Oost & West"), Indonesia and the Netherlands. I always thought of it as such a cliche, not realising what the image actually was (See the sketch of this work in this post). As I mentioned above, I was and am fully submerged in between 1850 and 1910. Only two weeks before I was standing in front of this work, I was flipping through an catalog of an exhibition about "Nederlands-Indische kunstnijverheid" ("Dutch Indonesian crafts") organised by and at 'Oost en West'. This tile tableau was made specifically for their location, a gallery for showing Art from Indonesia. Rouffaer was one of their experts, writing about and sharing his knowledge on many subjects. Batiks from the batikworkshop of Raden Saleh's wife were on display in the gallery. Oost en West was a place with a group of people with whom, if it was today, I would probably hangout all the time.

'Papuan man' by Emiria Sunassa in 1951
Collection Nasirun, Indonesia

Next to this visit back in time, there were certainly artworks from a nearer past that were just as inspiring. The fast sketched drawings by Emiria Sunassa of Papuan men stepping out of the jungle, showing there hunt trophies. The style is simple and so fresh.

The miniature paintings by Japanese artist Makoto Murata are small copies of 153 war paintings,  sensōga , in the collection of the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo. Displaying the sensōga let to different conflicts and the museum has an ongoing issue with ownership of the paintings. Murata's tiny copies allows people to view the entire collection and look back at the history of the Asia-Pacific War (1913-1941).

The exhibition had also two interesting works on fabric with very different stories. The handkerchief with portraits on them hang in a staircase leading down to an installation. The portraits are of women who due to their commitment to the Indonesian Communist Party were put in concentration camps in 1965. I think it is a beautiful and strong statement to portray this women on something that can catch sadness. 
The second story on fabric was in a temporary set-up between the two exhibitions, 'Ancestors & Rituals' and 'Power and other things' at BOZAR. The work by Alexis Gautier was made around the creation of a new island. This magic island that appeared over night, aka was made by the artist, was a way of seeing how people live, interact and own islands. Part of the exhibition was 'Princess's Weave'. The story goes that in 1505 Queen of the small Buton island in Sulawesi decided to cut her striped dress into small squares, creating a currency for her island! For the five following centuries the bank notes were exclusively woven by the princesses. This amazing story is true and how did I never heard of it before. Apparently 12 pieces of this woven money survived and are being kept in Museum Nasional in Jakarta. It sounds like to most amazing money in the world!

Work by Octora Chan based on Colonial Balinese portraits

For more on this exhibition read the article on DutchCulture 'The role of art in Indonesia'

For more on Europalia visit or keep checking my blog because more posts are coming up soon!

March 6, 2018

Europalia - Ancestors & Rituals at BOZAR

When I saw this detail in a palepai at the Europalia exhibition 'Ancestors & Rituals' I was imagining how it felt; standing on ship, with the wind in your hair, moving forward to the unknown with such confidence. I always love discovering these stories in textiles or on other objects, and this exhibition was full of stories. 
I was in October last year in Brussel to participate in a work by Ada van Hoornebeke and Maartje Fliervoet in collaboration with Manoeuvre. The Batik-workshop-installation at WIELS was an interesting growing sculpture on which I will write more in an upcoming post. Before I headed to WIELS, I made my way to BOZAR. Why is ever artspace name in Brussel written with capital letters? Anyway, as synchronicity makes my path, it was no coincidence I could combine my visit. When Art festival Europalia announced that their focus country would be Indonesia, I knew I had to see as much as possible. Unfortunately their music, dance, performance program I missed entirely, their exhibition program I did manage to see, entirely, amazingly! So time for some revisits!

Palepai, ceremonial cloth
acquired in 1946
Lampung, Sumatra

First exhibition I went to was the 'Ancestors & Rituals' at BOZAR. It was just opened, so I didn't know what to expect. The exhibition started with objects from Dong Son Culture. Objects from 500 AD made to honour ancestors and to use in rituals to ask them for guidance. 
At the entrance was a well rounded figure of a woman with on her back a child. The statue stood once in Pagaralam (South Sumatra). So much strength came from it. It made me sad she was removed from her location, yet happy the statue survived. Its always a double feeling with these kinds of objects.

Another object from the same culture, a bronze vessel, was decorated with a familiar looking motif; Parang Rusak. This motif is nowadays the most popular pattern in Batik on Java. Originally Parang Rusak is from Yogyakarta and was a pattern used only by the royal family. The design on the bronze vessel from 200 AD is thought to be the original inspiration for Parang Rusak.

Pillar of Sun god Surya
from 500 AD
Sawu, East Nusa Tenggara

With this discovery I started looking differently at the objects in the exhibition. There were no actual Batiks on display, but I started finding Batik motifs and other interesting patterns on sculptures, a kris and jewellery. In one room stood three buddha like statues. I recognised some from my visit to Museum Nasional in Jakarta and after I quickly made a little bow before it, I took a closer look to examine the patterns on the fabrics carved out of stone. The statues from the 14th century are from the Majapahit dynasty, a kingdom on Java ruled from 1293 till 1500. They look like gods, Shiva and Parwati, but are actually the kings and queens depicted as gods. The crossed legs are from Prajñaparamita, a goddess for wisdom and perfection. The motif on her knees look like a type of nitik, which is considered nowadays as one of the most difficult types of Batiks to make. Nitik is made using a canting, koper pen, with a square spout. When I first heard about it, I thought it wasn't possible to actually make square dots with a canting, but I saw it with my own eyes. A perfect Batik motif for a perfectionistic goddess.

Kris from Surakarta (Solo), Java

Detail of Bark cloth with a Buffelo motif
Find the horns and the head 
From South Sulawesi

The last object I want to write more about is this fellow on a chair with a nice top-hat. I'm always fascinated by ancestor objects, especially and mainly because they tell so much about the person it is made for. They can be kind hearted, mean looking or just intelligent, bright or very very sad. This one I found so wonderful. Normally these types of statues have a squatting pose. A typical way of sitting without sitting if you are flexible enough. This statue from the Moluccas is made before 1888 for a person who was probably Christian. If the person was European the information didn't say, but the hat and the chair surely suggest he was. I just love that although this person for who the statue is made didn't believe in the ancestor worshipping, they made it anyway, just in case. And added his top hat he probably wore on special occasions and gave him a chair so he didn't need to try to sit in a squatting pose.

Majapahit-ancestor statue with two deer heads, a tree of life 
and apparently the rainbow broke off...

Pectoral disc, Belak
Made from gold, 19th century
From Timor

Detail of cloth decorated with beads and shells
From Sumba

For more on Europalia visit or keep checking my blog because more posts are coming up soon!

January 25, 2018

New Years resolutions with Babatunde

Babantunde, campaign 2014, love this picture!

Last October I had the chance to meet and hang out with entrepreneur and fashion designer Gareth Cowden of the brand Babatunde. I knew his brand very well from the store Lady Africa in Den Haag (NL). The cap, hats, bowties and umbrellas in colourful wax prints brighten up every outfit and make great gifts. When I heard he would be part of the Afrovibes program, I made sure we would meet.

Babatunde is known as a South African brand, but meeting Gareth I learned that the whole ‘African Fashiontrend’ isn’t always that helpful in developing a sustainable, strong brand. In our conversations on Skype and on Dutch soil we talked about what it meant to represent ‘Africa’, how it is in ‘South Africa’ and what is the actual power of fashion.

Gareth started Babatunde in 2009. He was working as a fashion stylist in music videos and fashion editor for magazines. To work in fashion in South Africa you have to be quite versatile. So the focus wasn’t just on menswear or advertisements, but a bit of everything. To create a more stable income, away from freelance, in combination with the wish to work outside South Africa, the idea of Babatunde came to life. With a visit to Gabon, Gareth noticed how different South Africa is from other African countries. Especially in what people wear. People don’t wear nearly as much prints in South Africa. Returning with the inspiration of seeing people wearing all these prints and with his knowledge of who does what around Johannesburg, he started Babatunde.

New Adidas #Adicolor Campaign from Trevor Stuurman with Babatunde umbrella

Openingnight of Afrovibes 2017 with a Babatunde photobooth

What’s in a name?

During the Lady Africa fashion show in Den Haag on 8 October a woman said: “Wauw Babatunde, such a special name.” So I made a note to ask Gareth about this during our conversations on Skype.

Babatunde means The Father Comes Back in Yoruba, a language spoken in West Africa.
First Gareth wanted to call the brand Bamako, after the capital of Mali. A lot of great music comes from there according to Gareth. Yet, he knew the name Babatunde for a long time, and it somehow clicked. It turned out to be the perfect name. He discovered the name through reggae. He started to research the name and discovered it worked for different reasons.
First, because it is a Yoruban name and not a South African name. This way he could pay homage to other African countries.
Also to show at home that there is more North of the Crocodile river. The possibility to share through his brand more about other African countries.
The best thing about the name Babatunde is the direct translation; The father comes back, the father returns. As Gareth explained: “We just need more father figures in Africa. Due to colonisation, due to Apartheid, family structures were destroyed. Now migrant labor, men leaving their communities in order the find work. Again family structures are destroyed. But also The need to take responsibility for your own actions and respecting others around you. It’s about creating awareness, The reason why we have these family structures. Showing a different kind of cool also. Being well mannered for example. Africa needs to grow and prosper. I don’t know how easy it is to get these messages across through a brand, through a cap or an umbrella someone bought in Tokyo or somewhere in Europe, but this is what I’m hoping to achieve with Babatunde.”

The love for wax

Growing up in South Africa, the experience of seeing something so different in Gabon and Mozambique struck with Gareth. It added something to the experience, subconsciously. All these colours.
At first Gareth thought Wax prints were purely African, made and designed. Although this isn’t the whole story of Wax prints, still there was something really representative of Africa in the prints. So he chose to start with making accessories with selected prints.
Long term Babatunde doesn’t have to be strictly Wax prints in Gareth’s eyes. For a brand to be strong, you need to be able to bring out a plain black cap or a plain black hat. Leather, or whatever. In the end it should be more about the name and what it represents, then the fabric it is made of.
On the other hand, it would be amazing if Babatunde was made in textiles specific to each region, even for each country or continent. The aim for Babatunde is to become more then a South African brand, to become a global brand. “I want to be a designer, a brand and a strong one, not only with the label {South} African. Yet I want to be a brand with a responsibility to where I am from”

Lady Africa Fashionshow on 8 October 2017 in Den Haag 
with a lot of wax prints from Julius Holland Wax 
and umbrellas by Babatunde

This responsibility comes with challenges. There are many challenges for working in South Africa. The equality, or better inequality. What local factories are capable of. Also the infrastructure is a challenge. For Gareth it is important to have the factories in South Africa, to make the products there. At the same time it feels like he can not make the products outside of South Africa. People in Europe assume when they see - Made in Uganda/South Africa/Ghana- they think, oh, it's fair trade, but they don’t know anything about how it is actually made, under which conditions it is made. Gareth asks himself if he can truly make a fair and sustainable product in South Africa. What does Fair trade actually mean? On paper it means that the workers are getting paid better, are living in better houses, but in reality what does that look like? If they get paid minimum wage that is considered fair, but is it? Especially if you compare it to the wages people earn in the country where the products are eventually sold. So what is so fair about that? As a brand you don’t want to celebrate your employees can live the most basic life possible. You want a true improvement.
“Keeping the integrity of the brand is very important {for me}. If I keep the brand South African, there are a lot of benefits for the integrity of the brand. It is harder, but it is the future. I’m not trying to be a hero, I’m just trying to run a normal business. Here I can at least see how my products are made. But it isn’t perfect.”

For all the hardship and challenges you face making a brand work, it's little moments that make it worthwhile. Like hanging out with Erykah Badu for an hour, so jealous of that. Solange wearing Babatunde on stage. But also visiting Paris and spotting on the first night there, someone wearing his hat. A surreal and rewarding moment.
In the end its about everyone who chooses to wear my products. It is amazing that someone in Lagos, Miami, Tokyo can even get Babatunde. Thats it's so special.

Gareth’s ideas for the future of his brand are interesting and when I asked when Babatunde would be considered a success in his eyes, he answered “For Babatunde to be successful it needs to be able to employ 20 people. It can chance peoples lives if it gives work. Gives people salaries. But not only short term, it needs to be sustainable. Thats my dream. Thats what I want to do!”

I want to thank Gareth for sharing his thoughts and experience with his brand & I hope he can reach his dreams in the near future!

You can shop Babatunde at Lady Africa on Denneweg 21A in Den Haag 
and on their webshop

For more on Babatunde go to 
or follow on Instagram & Facebook 

January 19, 2018

Horn of Plenty II Reap what you sow

Detail from a Batik Tulis made by Maria Paulina Carp 
From Pekalongan, Indonesia around 1900
Collection Tropenmuseum

In my research of patterns used in Batik and other textiles, I come across patterns that will pop up again and again and confront me with their meaning. One of this returning patterns is the Horn of Plenty. This boot or horn-shaped basket filled with fruits and flowers is the image for a rich and successful harvest. Thats why it is often used for Thanksgiving. But what does the Horn of Plenty actually mean?


The Horn of Plenty, or in Latin Cornucopia, originated from Greek mythology. Amalthea, the loving or feeding goddess, was present at the birth of King of Gods Zeus, as a goat. In one of the stories her horn breaks off. Whoever possess the horn gets everything he or she desires Zeus gives the horn to goddess Fortuna, the goddess of, right, abundance in wealth. But the horn is also linked to Dionysos, better known as Bacchus, best described as the god of overconsumption.
With this original interpretation this pattern gets a whole new meaning. It is not just a symbol to celebrate a successful harvest, but it seems also to celebrate the right of that harvest. That the owner deserves this good harvest.

The horns on Batik from 1880-1920

In this context I saw the Horns of Plenty in a new light. I found the symbol a lot on Batiks from between 1880 and 1920. These Batiks were made in Indo-European and Peranakan Chinese Workshops. The cloths were of the highest quality made on demand by one specific group of clients, the Dutch and Indo-European living in the former Dutch East Indies.

Batiks were an important tool to wear, they represent who you are, what your descent is and what wishes you have, but they also show off your status. The pattern choice of the Dutch and Indo-European clientele is kind of sweet in this specific period  - like bouquets, butterflies, birds and once in a while a fairytale figure. So I knew the Horn of Plenty didn't get on the cloths by accident, they were chosen.

As I mentioned before, this pattern kept popping up. After first learning about this pattern in Batiks, already 6 years ago (see previous blogpost 'Horn of Plenty'), the pattern wouldn't let me go. I saw it on other fabrics; in lace, in embroidery on merklappen, on Chintz from India and kraplappen from Spakenburg  I even saw it in sculptures and gates. An entrance at the Zuiderzeemuseum is decorated with two horns of plenty! I spotted them also on handbags, on the handle and stringed in beads, on golden 'ear irons' and other jewelry.

Discovering a pattern

Seeing the symbol so many times, I started to see a pattern. The symbol was used in a period even earlier then the Batiks I discovered it first on. It was used in many materials. Mostly materials and products that aren't naturally found in the Netherlands, but are directly linked to the Netherlands.
I realized this when I visited the exhibition 'Sits, katoen in bloei. The textile, with a colonial history, was exhibited in the Fries Museum and the symbol was on a skirt, underskirt, children's cap and palempore (a kind of bedspread or wall hanging).
The skirt and underskirt were shown together. They lifted one sight so the embroidered pattern in blue on white was visible really well. The Chintz skirt is from India around mid 18th century and the underskirt is embroidered in the Netherlands probably third quarter of the 18th century.

Skirt from Chintz with embroidered underskirt
both with Horn of Plenty symbols on it 
at the exhibition ‘Sits, katoen in bloei’, collection Fries Museum

The wearer

Gieneke Arnolli, curator of the exhibition and former conservator fashion and textile at the Fries Museum, told me the skirt of Chintz was donated in 1936 by Miss Meintje Beucker Andreae. The wearer was presumably Taetske Margaretha (van) Beucker (1710-1772) who married Daniël Hermannus Andreae (1697-1771) in 1733. He was born on the former island Onrust, now Pulau Kapal, before the coast of Jakarta (Java, Indonesia). He was a preacher in Blija and Hogebeintum in the province Friesland. In short, the skirt belonged to a wealthy family.
The underskirt is made of fustein, a European fabric of linen with European hand spun cotton, and was worn by Hykke Jans (1740-1788) from Makkum in Friesland. On 20 June 1762 she married Gerben Aages, presumably a captain.
So the wearers were European with a colonial past, just like the wearers of the Batiks. A past that can be directly linked to collecting an abundance of wealth. And those wealths were products gathered overseas. Like the Batiks and Chintz, but also the gold and silver. And which symbol fits that better then the Horn of Plenty...?

Remarkable discoveries

But the meaning of patterns and symbols aren't fixed. Symbols can gain or lose meaning, change or adapt in time, carrying out new messages, but they will always tell something about the period in which they where used most.
When I was certain of the meaning of Cornucopia, I was surprised twice by a different use of it. I spotted it between butterflies, lobsters, crabs and deer on a Batik made by Peranakan Chinese on the North-coast of Java. The Batik, also intended for Peranakan Chinese, was meant to be used as a door hanger. In shades of red all kinds of luck symbols are put onto the cloth.  During special occasions like Chinese New year, this cloth would give hopefully extra luck in the upcoming year. The Batik is from around beginning of the 20th century and wasn't made in a European-colonial context, but made in a old traditional context with a new symbol for luck added to it.

The second surprise came with an invite for the Keti Koti Talks organized by the Tropenmuseum. In their Facebook event they used a black and white picture of a lady in a beautiful koto, a kotomisi. The picture is from beginning 20th century. Her skirt and top are filled with big Horns of Plenty. I can't see what kind of fabric it is, but I was so happy with the wearer of this fabric and the new meaning she gives to it.

Batik Tulis door decoration
likely from a Peranakan Chinese workshop
From North-coast of Java made begin 20th century 
Collection Rudolf Smend

Read more in the first post about the ‘Horn of Plenty’ on this blog

This article first got published om Modemuze in Dutch on Thanksgiving, 23 November 2017, read it here "De Hoorn des overvloeds. Zoals we zaaien, zullen we oogsten"

All photos  used in this article are made by me, for more examples check out the article on Modemuze "De Hoorn des overvloeds. Zoals we zaaien, zullen we oogsten"