Highlights of the Asian Civilisations Museum Singapore’s new batik exhibit

It’s the exhibition that we at AUGUSTMAN have been ready for: a presentation on the intersection of historical past, tradition, artwork and trend. It’s an exhibition particularly related to our area, however as we walked by means of its shows, it turns into clear that this exhibition celebrates a worldwide phenomenon.

Welcome to Batik Kita: Dressing in Port Cities. Positioned within the second stage of the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM), this presentation of batik cloths and batik trend items from our area and past is put collectively by Senior Curator Noora Zulkifli and Visitor Curator Lee Chor Lin.

For Chor Lin, it’s a form of homecoming. The museum veteran, hailed for rejuvenating Singapore’s museum scene throughout her tenure as Director of the Nationwide Museum of Singapore from 2003 to 2013, returns to the museum the place she managed the China and Southeast Asian galleries from 1997 till 2003. For her work as a custodian of each regional and worldwide heritage, tradition and historical past, Chor Lin was conferred the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters) by the French authorities in 2008 and Cavaliere, Ordine della Stella d’Italia by Italy in 2012.

After we sat down for a chat along with her after touring the exhibition, she was each bit – and extra – the erudite, eloquent historical past scholar we anticipated her to be.

“Singapore is a pure venue for a presentation like this,” stated Chor Lin. “Sure, batik is deeply rooted in Javanese tradition, however it was additionally an internationally traded product, and a whole lot of them would undergo our port. Earlier than World Battle 2, when Singapore was primarily an entrepot, hundreds of thousands of rolls of batik would come by means of Singapore earlier than being exported to the remainder of the world. Even so it’s not simply one thing prior to now. We’ve worn batik ourselves, or have seen mates or relations put on them. It’s a part of our private lives. It’s a part of us, right here within the current.”

Regional Roots, International Enchantment

The time period ‘batik’ refers to each the strategy of wax-resist dyeing that creates its outstanding designs, in addition to cloths and trend items that function designs created with the method. It’s recognised by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Whereas many rightfully affiliate ‘batik’ with Java or maybe the Indonesian islands at massive, its strategies, as they’re recognized immediately, are a results of a cross-pollination of concepts from completely different cultures and nations.

“The earliest batik had been made with rice paste or a mixture of rice paste, glue and dust. However they didn’t final lengthy nor did they permit for very tremendous work,” Chor Lin explains. “In the event you take a look at items from earlier within the historical past of batik, they function very tough strokes.”

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She continued, “However the Javanese learnt that beeswax, when melted and utilized by means of a canting (a conventional hand instrument to use molten wax, as pictured beneath), permits for finer drawing – thinner strains and subsequently extra complicated designs. They usually received beeswax from commerce with international locations within the area with a robust Catholic presence such because the Philippines and Borneo, who had been utilizing beeswax to make candles for his or her chapels and church buildings.”

Jogjakarta batik artist utilizing a canting. Picture by Mahmur Marganti on Unsplash

Retailers from Europe, India and Japan finally introduced in chemical dyes as properly, and this allowed the artistry of batik to flourish much more.

Europe’s industrial revolution additionally helped. The Dutch, Indonesia’s colonial masters of the time, introduced in steam-powered machines and industrial woven material into Java, facilitating the proliferation of batik not simply regionally, however all over the world. With Singapore as entrepôt, batik unfold all over the world, to the remainder of Southeast Asia, Europe, Africa and even the Americas.

“There have been textile magazines in America that will function articles on batik. The phrase ‘batik’ was already within the English lexicon within the Nineteen Twenties,” stated Chor Lin. “Batik isn’t simply an artwork kind. It’s a commercialised artwork kind that folks traded. And it was well-liked as a result of again then, it was one of the crucial available methods for folks to put on patterns or colors of their clothes.”

A Image of Standing and Energy

The very first thing that greets you while you enter the Batik Kita exhibition is the magnificent 2m X 4m dodot, or ceremonial waist material usually worn by Javanese rulers and sultans. Each element of the work speaks to the noble virtues embodied by its wearer.

Dodot ceremonial waist material

The white lozenge-shaped tengahan or centrepiece represents the ruler’s non secular purity, whereas its central place is symbolic of his place as the point of interest of the universe. The perimeter of the tengahan contains a flame motif, guarding the wearer’s purity. The remainder of the fabric options the elegant gold leaf motif that speaks to his worldly wealth and standing. As a substitute of the wax-resist strategies of recent batik, the motif is utilized with fish bone glue, a extra primitive technique of batik. Whereas its age does present, it’s nonetheless well-preserved, a testomony each to its craftsmanship in addition to ACM’s custodianship.

The dodot is important to Singapore’s museums collectively. It was one of many first items to reach on the Raffles Library and Museum virtually 100 years in the past within the Nineteen Twenties. The Raffles Library and Museum is the predecessor to the trendy, immaculately curated museums that may be present in and round Singapore’s civic district.

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It was one of many first issues Chor Lin wished within the exhibition. “After I started chatting with the conservators, I stated no matter we do, I should have this piece out on show as a result of it is among the earliest items to return to the museum. I need folks to see how tremendous the work is. I need to inform folks – this piece is over 100 years outdated, however take a look at that workmanship.” She provides with fun, “There was a whole lot of bargaining with the conservators. I needed to drop a whole lot of items for show on this exhibition simply so the dodot can face the world yet one more time.”

The dodot wasn’t the one batik piece within the exhibition that spoke to the the Aristocracy of its wearer. Additionally on show is a big batik material adorned with the long-lasting parang rusak motif, one of many oldest batik designs, and a motif, at one level in Javanese historical past, solely allowed to be worn by the ruler and his household.

Regardless of its identify, the parang rusak, or damaged blade, motif was impressed by the form of waves breaking towards a reef. The continual S-shaped braid represents the everlasting battle for good to prevail over evil, and the neverending wrestle for self-improvement, simply because the waves by no means tire in hitting the reefs. In the meantime the straight diagonal strains of the motif symbolises respect, steadfastness and reverence to the reality. The scale of the sample additionally signifies the wearer’s social standing within the realm of the dominion.

These summary designs and the philosophical connotations undoubtedly contribute to the timeless enchantment of batik and gave energy to plain material. However it’s in its foray into on a regular basis males’s trend that really cemented its relevance.

Batik In Politics and Males’s Vogue

“I feel the batik shirt is the saving grace of Southeast Asian males,” Chor Lin proclaims. “Again within the 60s, it was a trendy various to carrying a swimsuit to work, particularly contemplating our local weather. It didn’t make sense to put on fits to work on this a part of the world.” Again then, batik shirts had been additionally a logo of our regional identification, in an period when an increasing number of nations in our area had been gaining sovereignty from their respective European colonisers. To put on a batik shirt as an alternative of an European swimsuit was an expression of our independence. Indonesia and Malaysia made batik the usual for official and work put on. Singapore inspired however didn’t officialise batik for official put on. “Nonetheless, our leaders had been savvy,” stated Chor Lin. “They understood what batik meant to the area, in order that they adopted it for regional official occasions.”

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Within the Batik Kita exhibition, menswear – notably batik shirts – by batik couturiers Iwan Tirta, Baju by Oniatta, Rasta Rashid and Sarkasi Stated are on full show, together with some items worn by political luminaries from our area equivalent to Singaporean Prime Minister Mr. Lee Hsien Loong and former Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad.

One which stands out was the red-and-white batik shirt designed by Singapore Cultural Medallion recipient Sarkasi Stated that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wore on the Nationwide Day Parade in 2019. The daring color alternative – not unprecedented, however nonetheless uncommon – appeared virtually consultant of Singapore’s management on the time: daring, fashionable, constructing on the traditions and norms that preceded it.

(second from left) The enduring red-and-white batik shirt gained by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on the 2019 Nationwide Day Parade designed by Sarkasi Stated

Additionally on show are the silk batik shirt worn by Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong on the Asia-Pacific Financial Cooperation summit in Bogor in 1994, an occasion that additionally noticed then-US President Invoice Clinton put on a batik shirt. The shirt worn by Mr. Goh was an attention-grabbing quantity, a black base with a vibrant golden-orange fern leaf motif.

On the far proper: Silk batik shirt by Iwan Tirta worn by Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong at APEC (Asia-Pacific Financial Cooperation) Bogor 1994. Designed by Iwan Tirta

Extra importantly, the exhibition additionally exhibits daring new methods of carrying batik that mix each the beliefs of recent trend in addition to the expressions of identification. Take, for instance, BINhouse’s pagi-sore (morning and evening, pictured beneath) motif sarong that utilises color blocking to good impact, mixed with a extra conventional batik scarf. It’s a deconstruction of batik in menswear. As a substitute of going together with the batik shirt, the sarong and scarf preside right here, offering a vibrant, spirited expression of 1’s aesthetic leanings. Maybe not appropriate for a proper event, it helps the wearer stand out brilliantly at cultural occasions and informal soirees.

Simply as compelling is the aptly named Merdeka (Freedom) Jacket from Baju by Oniatta, paired with the Utama Pants from the identical Maison. Equal elements seashore or loungewear and equal elements assertion piece, this versatile ensemble invitations its wearer to partake in our regional tradition whereas retaining a contemporary, masculine expression.

These, and extra, are a few of the items out there for public viewing on the Batik Kita exhibition. It’s as a lot a visit by means of historical past as it’s a rallying name for contemporary trend – particularly males’s trend – to really embrace batik. With that in thoughts, Batik Kita is a well-timed exhibition and a must-add to your calendar.

“A big scale batik retrospective like this has been a very long time coming. Batik is having fun with a renaissance immediately,” says Chor Lin. “I hope that Batik Kita is only one of many extra stunning batik exhibitions to return in Singapore.”

The Batik Kita: Dressing in Port Cities exhibition runs till 2nd October 2022 on the Asian Civilisations Museum (1 Empress Place Singapore 179555).

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