October 23, 2020

How to get Batik into This New Normal

In a time it seems everything is taking place online it has been quiet on my blog. Not that I didn’t write or because you haven’t visit. The opposite. My blog has been visited so much, especially in the beginning of the pandemic and I am happy with all the new readers that reached out! Yesterday I joined this amazing online launch on a fully virtual made Batik exhibition and I thought I needed to write an update here on these past few months.

Opening of Virtual Exhibition by Kibas

Batik under covid

When Covid became a global pandemic it had a huge impact on Batik. The sales in Batik dropped and most Batikworkshops on Java stopped producing for several months. Batik depends, must like other local crafts unfortunately, on tourism. Not just tourists from abroad, but also Indonesians themselves. For example Lasem and Pekalongan are both cities that have many people visiting just to buy Batik and of course they combine it with trying out the food specialities and going to Museums or events. I saw myself last year how Lasem is catering more and more to tourism and it had a great positive impact. Old buildings, like Rumah Merah or Rumah Oei, have been restored and turned into cultural hotspots with great guest-rooms. Cultural Batiktrips got organised by different parties, like Awesome Lasem, were a group of people would just hop from Batikworkshop to Batikworkshop while enjoying nature and food. 

Most Batikworkshop have specific deals with specific parties, like resellers or shops, but also organisations that do events and tours. It is great for Batikowners and makers since they can focus on making Batik and not on the marketing. For all parties connected to a Batikworkshop they can connect different businesses and all make profit from the growing interest in Bartik. However as soon as Covid happened, it showed how fragile this system is. If sells dropped and people can not travel, all parties get affected. However Batikmakers get affected the most, they can not do anything else then just produce Batik. And if they stop, all else stops also. For the resellers, shops and organisations there is little they can do if they can't sell any Batiks...Sooo it was very good to see that actually some organisations really made an effort in providing income for the Batikmakers. A lot start making facemasks, but also just did fundraising campaigns so Batikmakers could get paid even without Batiks being sold. Kesengsem Lasem were I gave my talk last year was fast to response to the pandemic. They focussed first mostly on giving informations on wearing masks and on how to disinfecting working surfaces so people could continue working safely. They went around town giving cleaning products to batikmakers, but also foodsellers. It shows such dedication to keeping your whole community safe. Really inspiring!


Zoom/Talk/Insta lives

Of course most organisations turn online. Which is great for me, but I wonder how great it is for the Batikmakers. In the talks from Indonesia I see mostly the same people, often te bigger Batik bosses and heads of all kinds of yayasans (stichting/foundation). Smaller Batikworkshop owners and batikmakers aren't really invited to talk Batik. However interesting topics do get discussed, mostly in Bahasa Indonesia and sometimes in English. One question keeps popping up: How to get Batik into This New Normal? Batik is under constant threat;  Competing with the Fast Fashion Fake printed textiles called 'Batik Print and Getting extinct since most Batikmakers are above 50 years old and younger generations see no future in working long laborful days for little payment. Batik need to become fair, safe and independent. It need to become sustainable. Not in the future, but Now.

And so are much other things in our lives that need to become sustainable, it is all connected and we are running out of time. Of course in this moment are hands are also partly bound. There is only so much you can do from afar and reaching the Batikmakers was difficult even before this pandemic ruled the world.


The New Normal

I was invited by Modemuze to be one of the bloggers for their exhibition 'The New Normal' in collaboration with OSCAM. I didn't write on Batik, but I was happy to put some of the feelings and thoughts on current events on digital paper and reflect on the role fashion plays in it all.  My reflecting post Creating shared experiences at a distance focus on the work shown by Karim Adduchi and other pieces from the Modemuze collection that are made from a same drive. Looking at what people make together even without being able to actually be together works inspiring and healing. 

Creating shared experiences at a distance at The New Normal at OSCAM

A work, or well a dress, that I highlight in my blog, I saw in the exhibition 'Mode op de Bon' in the Verzetsmuseum, also in Amsterdam. The exhibition showed the creative and often sustainable solution people came up with to be able to wear nice, even fashionable cloths during war time. One dress stood out right away. It is a full length Gala looking dress which from up-close turns out the be made from all small patches. The dress made during the Second World war is made from no less than 1280 'silks'(‘zijdjes’). These pieces of silk were giving as a kind of promotional gift with Turmac cigarettes. This specific series has all kinds of Wayang figures on it. Just collecting enough pieces to make the dress would have been already a challenge. It is unknown if the dress was ever worn or who even made it. I like to think this project most have given the maker comfort and hope, imagining the first party in freedom were this dress could have been worn.

Dress from Turmac silks
collection Museum Rotterdam, inv. nr. 68832
 Photo Sabine Bolk

The exhibition at OSCAM in Amsterdam (NL) will be on display till 2 November so go check it out and on Modemuze you can read all the blogs including mine (in Dutch)

Staying Connected


My Bday Batik Day Zoom - if you would like to watch, please send me an email


While this year moved very slow, it also moved surprisingly fast. When in March are 'intelligent lockdown' started my agenda became very empty. I though I would have much time to focus on my ongoing researchproject Re-telling the history of the (Indo-)European influence on Batik, but it was hard to work without access to the collection, online database and much needed guidance. So the first weeks I spend mostly making plans to fill my week;  I made an stopmotion, I discussed my Art in my home, I was on IG live at aNERDgallery, made an onlineprogramma for the cancelled Tong Tong Fair together with Guave and much more.


I am good at keeping myself busy, but all the cancelling, replanning and recancelling is taking its toll on my motivation. I am trying to focus again on my research and on the works I am making inspired by this research. One of these works, I started last year. The idea was to creating a Batik based on a classic Java Print by Vlisco and hereby return it to it original form. The original form of this specific Java Print being a Batik Tiga NegeriNegeri from Negara which mean Country and Tiga meaning Three. So believed was that these types of Batiks were produced in three regions on Java in the 19th century in three different styles. My plan was to send the Batik to different Batikmakers/Artist each making one layer of the batik, adding one colour. So that it again produced in three places, but now three countries. The first copy I made I brought to Java were Miss Siti continued on it. In February, just before the lockdown, the Guave ladies picked the pieces up at Miss Siti in Batang. They are so great! 

I just finished a second Batik, today I will boil out the wax and this piece will go first to the USA. It goes much slower this project then planned, but I am happy with this idea of working together abroad and reflecting on this history, the colonial and the textile trade. So a little sneak peak for now.

Making of

After dyeing, but still with wax


Saya harap semua orang tetap sehat dan sampai jumpa lagi, Hati-hati dan Kembali!

Stay safe, saty healthy and take care of yourself & your surroundings,

Kind regards & warm wishes,

Sabine




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