The colours and patterns of Batik are a familiar style worn by men and women in Malaysia. Existing since the 12th century, this wax-resist technique has been found across the globe, including in India, Egypt, and the Middle East.
For Southeast Asian nations such as Indonesia, Malaysia and some say Singapore, the Batik is a symbol of pride and heritage.
Is there a difference between the diverse Batik types produced in various countries? Can we tell them apart based on their patterns and colours?
Eksentrika speaks to Sharifah Hishmah, owner of Tjanting Handicraft, who has been in the business for over 40 years.
According to Sharifah, while the technique of Batik in most countries are similar, there is a difference in the way of colours, patterns and motifs are designed.
“Technique wise it is either block-prints or hand-drawn, or less or more use of the canting or brush painting,” she said.
Batik craft in Malaysia is heavily influenced by Sumatran and Javanese batik production. This is due to the presence of many Javanese immigrants in Johor and the Southern region of Malaysia, where Batik was popularly produced.
As a cottage industry, Batik still thrives today in the east coast states of Kelantan, Terengganu as well as Pahang, and Johor.
“Malaysia’s batik heritage designs can also be seen from our traditional Pua Kumbu from Sabah and Sarawak,” said Sharifah.
While Malaysian Batik is commonly available in a range from light and vibrant to deep, Indonesian Batik colours are usually richer.
“Indonesian motifs tend to be deeper coloured with more use of browns and beiges and the design are more intricate. Indonesians are very skilled workers. Their industry is much older than ours. Their artisan workmanship rates are also cheaper than ours,” said Sharifah.
Batik can also be made using natural plant-based dyes or chemicals, the choice depends on the designers and artisans.
“Natural dyes are not as brilliant and bright. Chemical dyes are brighter. When it comes to the customer, it is all very subjective,” said Sharifah.
Floral patterns are more popular in Malaysia, as Islamic norms forbid anthropomorphic and animal depictions as decoration. The butterfly is the sole exception and a common pattern in Malaysian batik.
There are four main methods to create Batik in Malaysia. At times, these techniques are combined to create unique designs.
The first method is stamping, also known as batik cop, batik terap or batik blok. Using blocks of wood or copper, patterns are stamped onto cloths to create the designs. This method purportedly began in Terengganu in the 1920s.
Batik Canting or Batik Conteng is essentially a free-style hand drawing by the artisan. Using a pen-like tool called canting, liquid hot wax is applied to the fabric to create the design. At times, brushes are also used to paint the patterns. This method gained popularity in the 1960s and is believed to have been brought in by the Javanese. Colours accompanying this style of Batik are often deep.
Stenciling or Batik Skrin is believed to come from Thailand during the 1930s, this technique utilizes candles and cutouts of patterns to print the design onto the cloth. This method is often used to create sarongs. It’s quick, affordable and the colours usually last longer.
Batik can also be created using dip-dye and is known as Batik Pelangi. To create this design, the cloth is tied and dipped into colour. Of all the Batik designs, this is believed to be the oldest, having originated from India and adopted in Terengganu during the 1770s.
Since Batik is a traditional craft, some may associate the style with the older generation and consider it outdated. Yet, many young and trendy entrepreneurs have spotted an opportunity in Batik as a unique, artisanal product.
“No two Batik pieces are the same. This is the hallmark of hand-drawn Malaysian batik,” says Kartini Illias of the iKartini brand.
“My guests at Langkawi Country Lodge are from all over the world and many of them want to take a Malaysian souvenir that is not only unique but also beautiful. Malaysian batik is always the preferred choice. Our local artisans are getting more and more creative. Like making matching batik sets – batik earrings, necklaces, scarves to match their batik outfits,” she added.
Tjanting Handicraft owner, Sharifah believes Malaysian Batik industry warrants protection similar to how Indonesia has done. This is due to the proliferation of batik items from Thailand, India and other countries.
“One has to always be aware of trends and changing market needs and refresh or create new designs accordingly. We have the artisans with the creativity and skills and they can still be home-based,” says Sharifah, “marketing skills and promotional funding are what is needed.”
There are a few government and private agencies which focus on promoting and marketing Malaysian batik. Malaysia’s Karyaneka, the centre representing all Malaysian handicrafts is tasked with the challenge of building and harnessing the capabilities of the artisans in the Batik industry.
The Noor Arfa Craft Complex (NACC) in Terengganu aims to develop the arts and craft segment as well as designer entrepreneurs capabilities to supply high-quality products that can compete in the marketplace.
For Irina Gavrilliu, a Rumanian tourist visiting Langkawi, Batik has the potential to be “high fashion”.
“I don’t know the difference between Malaysian and Indonesian batik but I really like the flowers, especially the Bunga Raya (hibiscus) and the unique print in so many different colours. I love the fact, that it is all handmade and I can see how much work is involved, how it was made.
“Mass production, everybody has it. But for a few unique pieces, I would definitely pay much more,” said Irina.