I first met Serbian artist Mikro Kosmos (Miroslav Dukic) in Borneo earlier this year. He played a didgeridoo which he created himself and I was intrigued by this tall, mysterious figure instantly – he did not chit chat, but spoke about the darkness and light and he spoke lovingly of his partner, whom he described as a goddess. I later discovered that his exhibition Dark and Light – Dreaming Kosmos, held at Via Via Café & Alternative Art Space in Jogjakarta, displayed his batik creations which he had made during his one year tenure in Indonesia.
“When I arrived in Jogjakarta, batik greeted me. It was really a big surprise, naturally I was very interested – the process of batik nurtured the next episode in my life. I use painting to study, not only the technical process of creating but the explanations of reality that my being needs to raise on this planet. So batik painting is the inverted image in front of me – it was a new thing to learn, to grow my being with one more perception of reality.”
In the beginning of his explorations, Mikro met Indonesian artist Sony at his residence where the two rivers Elo and Progo meet, on the outskirts of the Borobudur temple, and Mikro posed the question: “What is the male and female energy in all?” Sony replied, “If you keep working on this answer on that place supported by all Elo Progo magic you can have every answer.”
Using the canting (a pen-like tool used to apply hot wax) for drawing and colours such as indigosol and naaptol, Mikro made his first steps in batik by the riverside and the end result was Meditation – a selection of visionary, cotton batik pieces.
Later, Mikro studied in the small, ceramic village, Bayat, outside Jogjakarta with the organisation Indoartamiks (which aims to infuse traditional Javanese ceramic and batik techniques with modern street art) and the director Melanie Mclintock invited Mikro to collaborate for one month with students from a local school. At this stage, Mikro learnt more about Indonesian culture, communication and batik and ceramic techniques. Finally, in Southern Borneo, Mikro studied traditional tattooing from the Dayak indigenous people and these influences can be seen in his batik.
I was curious to find out if other artists were also helping the processes of batik to evolve creatively and I spoke with Annissa Gultom, director of Museum Kain (Fabric Museum), which opened in Badung, Bali, in November 2013 and houses many antique and modern items of batik. “Museum Kain is a dream come true for its founder, Obin’s late husband, Roni Siswandi, an archaeologist-anthropologist who became a cloth innovator along with BINhouse,” explained Annissa. “It combines centuries-old weaving and batik-making methods with new styles of shape and colour. Museum Kain is also an embodiment of what a modern museum should be, combining antique artifacts with new methods of communicating, interaction, discussion and giving impressions.”
The processes of batik are in a state of constant change as Annissa Gultom explained, “Let me share with you what Roni Siswandi once shared to me; the essence of batik, is the use of hot molten wax. Whether you are using canting pen, stamps, or computerized wax applicator, if you’re using hot-molten-wax, that’s batik. Batik has survived the industrial revolution in the 1700s; when machineries were found to speed up production, the wax-stamp was founded, but it did not kill the canting pen method. It survives until today. Batik motif-printed cloths emerged because there are so many people who dearly wish to have batik in different aspects of their life, but they could not afford it. Yet the people who can afford it will choose the traditional method-made batik. There is a different market niche to every form of batik. Everybody still tries in any way they can to have batik as an inseparable part of their life.”
Before the introduction of synthetic dyes in the 1700s, batik tended to use the colours blue, red and brown – and modern batik now has access to a larger palette of colour. Yet I was curious to learn more about the differences between traditional and modern techniques of batik – were philosophical motifs and symbols used or were people able to capture their own personal experiences?
“Spiritual philosophy, nature observation and social culture occurrences are among inspirations that made batik motifs, then and now,” explained Annissa. “There is one piece from Semarang, a sarong that was passed on through five generations of the Siswandi family. The first owner was the grandmother of Roni’s grandmother. On this sarong, there’s a drawing (made using wax and canting) that shows the situation of the colonial city of Semarang at the time, complete with a Dutch man walking a dog, a long-haired girl walking nearby him, and a wagon with a man and his daughter on board. This piece demonstrates that batik is not always about spiritual meanings, court symbols or life stages, but also the expression of the makers – what surrounded them at the time, what was the trend or what they saw everyday on the way to the field.
“In our exhibit, you will also see batik from Solo with badminton motifs (Indonesia first won the badminton World Cup in 1950s); cotton flower; GANEFO symbols (Game of Emerging Forces, Soekarno’s project in the 60s); Peoni flower on hokokai batik (Japanese favourite flower, made during Japanese occupation) and so much more. These pieces are amazing – each telling the story of the maker and their life back then, making batik, actually, a very personal art expression. The unique ones give us more insight of real people and life back then. That is how batik should be seen, owned by the people.”
Mikro’s batik is a beautiful exploration of his cosmos – the spectrum of light to dark which he was not afraid to investigate – by portraying his personal experiences he has demonstrated that batik can be a very personal tool for expression. “Fear is a feeling that occurs when our perception of reality receives the ability to rapidly expand. Trust and love can transform and illuminate every part of existence because we learn to allow it to lead us through the universe – introducing us to this incomprehensible hugeness.”
Kampung Batik Jakarta – Jl. Pal Batu in South Jakarta
Kampung Batik Laweyan Solo
Museum Kain: www.museumkain.org