Indonesian Batik is Superior because it is Rich in Meaningful Motifs and Symbols

VOA spoke with a batik expert and an American who is a big fan of Indonesian batik, who both agree that from a variety of perspectives, Indonesian batik is superior and “unbeatable.”

“The uniqueness in the manufacturing process and technique, carefulness in color combinations, as well as the richness of motifs and patterns with symbols that are rich in meaning make Indonesian batik very superior,” Hartono Sumarsono told VOA recently.

Part of Hartono Sumarsono's batik collection (photo: courtesy).

Part of Hartono Sumarsono’s batik collection (photo: courtesy).

This batik expert and collector has traveled around the archipelago in search of batik, which according to him is a form of visual art. From his wanderings since 1983, he has collected thousands of batik cloths, and from that collection he has published five books.

Hartono, who received the 2011 Upakarti award for his service to the batik industry and old batik, said that another characteristic of Indonesian batik is its ethnicity, and that each region in Indonesia has its own characteristics. “Because of the uniqueness and greatness of Indonesian batik, foreigners need and should be interested in it,” he added.

Stanley Harsha, US diplomat, lover of Indonesian batik (photo: courtesy).

Stanley Harsha, US diplomat, lover of Indonesian batik (photo: courtesy).

In line with that opinion, Stanley Harsha, a former American diplomat in Jakarta who claims to still “love Indonesia, love the Indonesians, and love Indonesian batik,” said that “batik has very distinctive motifs, which are very harmonious with the colors that come with it. very good” so it is like a work of art to wear and also to display.

Commenting on Justin Holiday’s interest in Blitar batik, the diplomat who has published the book “Like the Moon and the Sun: Indonesia in the Notes of an American Diplomat” thought that it might fit the personality of the basketball player who has played for various NBA clubs and is now joining the Sacramento Kings.

“People like Justin Holiday, maybe because basketball players (and) are very expressive people, so he likes batik like Blitar batik or patchwork batik because it might express his own personality,” said Stanley.

Batik specially ordered by Justin Holiday is being made by Batik Kota Blitar.  (Photo: Courtesy/Yogi Rosdianta)

Batik specially ordered by Justin Holiday is being made by Batik Kota Blitar. (Photo: Courtesy/Yogi Rosdianta)

Hartono agrees with Stanley’s opinion, adding that foreigners, including Justin Holiday, are interested in Indonesian batik because of their interest in ethnic and cultural elements.

Hartono Sumarsono, batik expert and collector (photo: courtesy).

Hartono Sumarsono, batik expert and collector (photo: courtesy).

“Maybe it’s because batik is ethnic, so it’s something different from other regions. Maybe the Justin is someone who likes something different, exotic. So when he ordered the batik maker in Blitar, he asked for something with a cultural element. The lumping horse, for example, was placed there, as were the gates of Bung Karno’s tomb. The cultural element is there. Regarding coloring, (batik) Blitar is also like (batik) Pekalongan, the color is bright. I think Justin likes the cultural or exotic elements. For example, take a look at this (shown an example of a Kuda Lumping patterned batik cloth like the one Justin bought), I think everyone will be happy to see this, not just Justin, because our batik is amazingly beautiful.”

Hartono believes that if Justin sees batik from other areas, he will like it too.

“Justin, if he saw Solo batik, he would like it, Cirebon batik would also like it, because batik has its own characteristics as Mr. Stanley said, batik is something that has a culture, not just clothes, but something that is really interesting. for foreigners,” he added.

Batik Motif "Lengko Background Pasiran Seling Galaran” from Solo (photo: courtesy).

Batik Motif “Lengko Background Pasiran Seling Galaran” from Solo (photo: courtesy).

As a foreigner, Stanley admits that he likes batik clothes because they are “very nice and beautiful” to wear.

“I like batik because it is very comfortable to wear, it is very relaxed to wear. If it’s not too hot in Indonesia, (batik) can be used informally or formally. In America, if there are Americans who wear batik, it is because of something very, very beautiful. Therefore, batik is more than (just) a shirt, it is like art. So, I think that’s why Americans like batik, especially in coastal areas.”

Stanley admits that in a hemisphere with four seasons like America, it is indeed difficult to use batik as clothing all year round. However, he said that batik can be worn in spring and summer when residents have the opportunity to wear light clothing with bright colors and distinctive design details, as well as unique motifs.

Batik Motif Looking for Rejoicing Brand Fleas from Jakarta (photo: courtesy).

Batik Motif Looking for Rejoicing Brand Fleas from Jakarta (photo: courtesy).

Speaking further about batik which has been recognized as an “Intangible Cultural Heritage” by UNESCO and is internationally recognized as part of the fabric of the history of human civilization, Hartono said that his interest started when he was “hunting” Chinese ceramics at an antique market in Jakarta. .

“I am a person who likes beauty, beautiful things or things like batik. 1983 in Indonesia.’ Wow, that’s a bit of a concern too. So since then I’ve been looking for batik. The one whose name is Hartono, if you’ve been looking for it, that’s how it is,” he admitted.

From searching in various parts of Indonesia, he has collected more than 2000 batiks from all over Indonesia. Batik, he said, was actually not only made in Java, but also outside Java, although he also admitted that in some areas the batik was imported from Java, mainly from Cirebon and Pekalongan.

Batik Manca Multicolored Star Box Motif (CA 1950) from Yogyakarta (photo: courtesy).

Batik Manca Multicolored Star Box Motif (CA 1950) from Yogyakarta (photo: courtesy).

From his collection, Hartono admitted, “it is difficult to determine which one is the favorite because if we show batik (from his collection) it is all good. However, he said there was something that stood out, “Batik from Cirebon is very rare and it is full of meaning from the motifs of various animals which are symbols. That may be rare (found) in the world.”

Meanwhile, Stanley added that according to him, Indonesian batik and especially Javanese batik, have no competition because of their uniqueness.

“China and Malaysia cannot make something like Indonesia, with different batik. To promote batik abroad, one should promote the process, the process is very unique, especially the technique, symbolism and culture associated with batik. Moreover, Indonesian batik is the most beautiful. So, Malaysia, China and other countries cannot compete.”

Batik Patran Ceplok Gurdo (CA 1950) from Yogyakarta (photo: courtesy).

Batik Patran Ceplok Gurdo (CA 1950) from Yogyakarta (photo: courtesy).

As a batik hunter, including abroad, Hartono confirmed that opinion. Although until now the origin of batik is not known with certainty, but according to him, “the main thing is (the fact) that the best batik is from Indonesia, especially the workmanship.”

“I’ve been to China, see that Chinese batik is only blue with white, simple like that. Yes, it’s interesting, but it’s a long way to go. As I showed earlier, the lumping horse was done for five months. So Indonesian batik is extraordinarily good,” he said.

Stanley added that so far, batik has great potential to become a commodity that brings in foreign exchange as well as a means of promoting arts and culture for Indonesia. According to him, batik has indeed become a high fashion (haute couture), but batik should also be introduced to ordinary people at affordable prices.

“Now, overseas, there is batik at Gucci, Versace, which costs thousands of dollars because it has become a very high fashion, but we don’t see batik in shops for the little people like at Macy’s or Target. So I hope there are American businessmen or department stores that can work with Indonesian entrepreneurs so that (batik) can reach the small people and that can be promoted by Target itself.”

Stanley gave an example, a batik shirt that costs under $50 (around Rp. 700,000) “which is already good” can be reached by ordinary people in America “if the item is available at the department store.”

Hartono said, as a batik lover he always wears it on every possible occasion, and especially on overseas trips when the weather and season permits, so “it’s a direct promotion.” In addition, he always carries books on batik that he publishes to share with those who express interest in the batik he wears. [lt/em]