Wednesday, March 13, 2013


It was around 1979 when I was a junior in high school at the Jakarta International school in Jakarta, Indonesia. We had just moved there and Jai and I had to learn a new way of life. The school initiated new students, particularly expatriates on the culture of the host country. When we signed up for classes, Indonesian language and geography was mandatory and so was learning about Batik. Batik is an art form that is found all over south east Asia as well as parts of Asia.

I still remember arriving in class to see all the instruments used in Batik making. There was bees wax and some "sticky" wax, large skillets that were plugged in to melt the wax and a number of instruments called "Tjantings" which were used to apply wax. The premise of this technique is to have a painting or drawing, which one traces with the Tjanting applying the wax, which is not as easy a process as it sounds! Wax dries quite fast but one continues to apply it until all lines in the drawing are traced. Once it is all over, the dying process takes place. When the cloth is dyed it also rinses out the wax. One painting can go through several dying phases particularly if multiple colors are used. 

Garuda flight attendants: (
I also remember my class mates. Some were new, others had been in Jakarta for some time and were a little ahead of the game. But we all had one thing in common, painting with wax! Our instructor was a distinguished Javanese teacher who wore the traditional "Kabaya" which is a blouse whose origins go back to the middle east, the word "Kaba" meaning clothing. The kebaya is usually used for formal occasions such as weddings which show the Kebayas which can be very fashionable with rich brocade. Kebaya is a blouse, about waist length. The every day Kabaya is informal but elegant. The outfit is often completed with a floor length "sarong" which drapes around the body and shows off many batik prints. A more formal Sarong is known "kain panjang". An everyday Sarong is worn by both men and women in Indonesia.

Arjuna with traditional Sarong

My painting was the traditional "Wayang" or character from the traditional hindu epic, the Ramayana. My character was Arjuna, the brave warrior brother of Rama. Indonesia is the world's largest Muslim nation with religious influences from the Arab and Hindu worlds. All these influences are reflected by batik motifs, dress and various batik prints on tablecloths, napkins, bags, laptop cases and almost anything else.

My painting turned out very well! Wax had that ability to make mistakes look good with its delicate "bleeds" of color. So, along with all my international classmates, we all produced work that made us look like professionals! 

This table cloth has a traditional motif representing a scene from the Ramayana. These colors are pretty traditional and are used quite often. The blacks, browns and whites or browns and whites are very typical in many patterns.
Traditional table clot
Vera Bradley laptop case
Interestingly many American designers such as Vera Bradley uses designs that look very much like Batik. Here is an example of a laptop case. Although it is not Batik, the design is quite similar and more like Batik in other parts of Asia.

What a great experience it was to learn how to make a batik painting in high school. Although my Arjuna painting has gotten lost over the years, I would not hesitate to put it up on my wall if I ever found it!