by: Vera Jenny Basiroen & Michelle Elise Lapian
Modernisation finds us at the beck and call of rapidly developing technologies that makes it easier for information from one side of the world to travel to another in such an instant. This advancement brought to us the benefits of discovering new stories, knowledge, wisdom, perceptions, as well as culture from even the most remote places on the globe. In addition to that, new forms of entertainment also becomes easily available. We indulge almost everyday, clutching our smart phones and tablets, playing games downloaded from application stores, streaming videos and feeds from our favourite artists or public figures that especially targets our young generation, who are at the age where they are very receptive toward the current and innovative.
As our youth indulge in the technology and culture of the modern however, they are starting to lose their interest toward our own cultural heritage. Most of young generation nowadays are more interested in the culture from other countries such as Japan and Korea with its Korean fever, India, and from western countries such as America as well as European countries. They feel that the culture of Indonesia as something that is old-fashioned and ultimately, ‘not cool enough’ when compared to the glam and glimmer of the culture that comes from the afore-mentioned countries. The situation now is that more and more of our youth are abandoning our own diverse and beautiful culture; they do not care for it while ironically, foreigners from various countries are bemused with the beauty of our culture and cultural heritage. They eventually then become a pioneer in preserving our culture and cultural heritage.
However, the problem is not solved merely by handling the works of preserving our cultural heritage to the hands of willing foreigners. As Indonesians, the work of preserving our own cultural heritage and culture becomes our responsibility, it is also should be in our agenda, that we introduce and taught our youth to better understand and love their own culture as well as they love cultures from other countries. Such awareness toward preserving our culture has to be rooted deep in the young generation’s mind so that our culture could survive through the passage of time. Addressing this situation, a group of graphic design students from Binus Northumbria School of Design, Graphic Design and New Media major: Levina Ayu Susanti Putri, Aisyah Salsabila, Gloria Gwenda Wibowo, Dennis Christopher, Sabrina Evelyn Cheung, Maggie Regina Ayuputri Tunggono, Bimo Dwianugrah Prakoso, Claudia Stephanie, Damba Permatasakti, Desy Rosniawaty Soelistio, Artisa T. Tumiwa, and Adinda Hapsari, accompanied bytwo of the school’s faculty members, Vera Jane Basiroen and Michelle Elise Lapianwere participating in a field observational project in Lasem town, Rembang, Central Java where they are observing directly several community of hand-written batik artisans. Also present at the trip, was a contributor who is very familiar with the area as well as the people in the batik community in Lasem and around Rembang area, Diana Damayanti,
Lasem town is a coastal town that served as a port town during the ages of maritime trades;it is located at the northern coast of Java (Pantai Utara Jawa/Pantura). During the 14th century, Lasem was a part of Majapahit Kingdom. It was ruled by a ratu (queen) named Dewi Induwho was acting as a governor of the area. Her husband was a dampuawang; influential merchant who has trade connections across Southeast Asian countries during the time.Two generations laterduring the reign of Wijaya Badra, the grandson of Dewi Indu, one of Cheng Ho‘s admiral landed in Lasem; his name is Bi Nang Un. He took a liking to Lasem and decided to stay in Lasem with his wife, Na Li Ni. Na Li Ni spent her time in Lasem working batik, incorporating Chinese-influenced patterns such as phoenix bird, dragon, crysanthemum flower. Later on, batik community in Lasem claimed that these Chinese-influenced patterns is one of the most discerning qualities from batik Lasem.
Besides the use of Chinese-influenced patterns is its distinctive red colour, Lasem is the home of aparticular colour, resulted from the processing of noni fruit (mengkudu) juice, is called getih pithik or chick blood. The use of this colour is present in a kind of batik called ‘batik tiga negeri’. As the name suggests, this type of batik is made in three different areas, or countries as back then, different regions of Java is still not considered as a part of what is now Indonesia rather, it is considered as different country(ies) altogether. In which, Lasem has an important role in the creation of this kind of batik as the location that is specialising in dyeing the batik in red colour.
Sadly, these communities are in the brink of extinction due to the declining interest toward batik in general, as well as the emergence of print batik industry which, provides consumers with much more cheaper batik than hand-written batik or stamp batik with such ease and speed. In one occassion, one of these hand-written batik artisan even expressed how dejected and disappointed he had been when he had witnessed one of his hand-written batik creations being printed without him knowing about it.
During the trip, the students as artists as well, were greatly amazed by the skills and tenacity of the batik artisans who managed to create repetitions of stylized forms of floras and faunas in the region. All along, only few people know and understand how rigorous the process of creating hand-written batik is or how working on these cloths needs undivided attention of the artisans; how committed are the artisans to just work on a piece. From creating the pattern on both sides of the cloth, covering it in malam or beeswax, dyeing the cloth in colour, scraping the beeswax off, and if the batik is to have more than two colours, then the process is repeated from the beginning.
The mission of this cultural trip by Binus Northumbria School of Design, especially from the school of Graphic Design and New Media, is not only to introduce the beauty of one of Indonesia’s cultural heritage and encourage students to be inspired from it and for them to be able to apply the knowledge they acquire during the trip into their study of graphic design. One might ponder the relation between batik and graphic design as it is usually more connected to the area of fashion. However, the field of study of graphic design is very broad with different specialisations such asfractal design, or more commonly termed as pattern design. In studying pattern design, students are to be inspired by their surroundings whether it is an object or cultural values and understanding. Therefore, it is such a perfect chance for the graphic design students from Binus Northumbria School of Design, school of Graphic Design and New Media to broaden their horison while, in exchange of the knowledge they gain, they also express their thoughts and opinions as the youth of the generation to the batik artisan community; to help these communities to better understand nowadays’ culture and inspire them for their creations.
Some of these students have also written their own accounts of their journey, what they had observed, several issues they have discovered during the trip, as well as their personal views and feelings toward Lasem, its community, and its batik. From the collection of accounts that they had submitted, we had chosen two that are most representative of the journey.
2nd Year, Graduation Batch 2017
This time around last week (May 22nd, 2015), I went on a very inspirational trip with my campus where I got the chance to see and admire the wondrous batik of Lasem. In case you have not heard of Lasem itself, it is a small town in the northern coastal of Central Java that is located in Rembang Regency. To reach the city, we had to take about a 2-3-hour drive from Semarang while indulging in the scenery of salt ponds complete with traditional storehouses (for drying salt) or the usually called ‘gudang garam’ along the way.
While I have gotten fairly familiar with the more classical pattern of batik like the ones from Yogyakarta and Solo and some of the coastal areas like Tasik and Pekalongan, I had not yet before heard about the town of Lasem and its batik. And yet through this trip I found myself bemused by the town’s batik unique motifs and wide-array of colors. And though it was not my first time visiting a batik workshop, it is probably the first time for me to really dig deeper into the process and its ties with the cultural history of the town of origin. The trip consisted of visits to 3 of Lasem’s remarkable batik artisans. Each and every visit is a unique experience and hold different insights from one another.
The first destination of our trip was Bu Ramini’s workplace that is located in the middle of a small village. We arrived there by afternoon and the sun had begun to go down, adding a nice atmosphere to the already tranquil surroundings. Even though Bu Ram’s workshop is small and ordinary, I really like the batik cloths she produces especially ones that are made with natural coloring process that produces this very unique results of color. While we were there, Bu Ram and her colleagues briefly explain the process of making batik starting from mola to the latest stage of mlorot. Besides that she also told us about an unfortunate fact that most of the youngsters are not interested to continue the elders’ effort in sustaining handwritten batik and instead choose to do another work.
On the second day, we began our first workshop visit to Pak Sigit Witjaksono’s place that is located in his own home. Pak Sigit is an 85-year-old man who had been a batik entrepreneur for more than 50 years. He seems to be delighted to see us visiting his place and he got excited in return telling us stories about the history of Lasem’s batik. From his stories, I learned that the town’s Javanese descents had strongly acculturated with the Chinese culture that is said to have entered around before the 16th century. Pak Sigit tried to reflect this in his batik by incorporating some Chinese phrases that contains wisdoms and philosophies into his designs but still combines it with the character of Batik Laseman in its motifs and colors, making his batik one of a kind.
The last workshop we visit was Pak Santoso’s. It is located right next to some fields of terrace and it would be a near impossible to miss the place as it was marked by a very huge tree right in front of it. After being served with delicious homemade lunch under the shade of the African-like tree, Pak Santoso shared with us stories of his batik business, how he got from where he started until where he is now, alongside the struggles and challenges he had and are still facing. He told us that the current trends of today has not been leading people to use batik and so it is kind of hard for him to look for potential customers in the market.
Asides from doing workshop visits, we also went to some places that hold the town’s history of being a melting pot of cultures. One of the famous heritages of the Chinese culture is the hundred years old Cu An Kiong temple that is located in Dasun Street. Along the street, we could also see many other old houses and buildings with Chinese signature designs and structures, including the once infamous crack house of Lawang Ombo, even though many of these buildings have already become abandoned nowadays.
Even though initially I had not expect that I could learn so many things from this trip, the beauty of Laseman Batik and its interesting history has thickened my appreciation of Indonesian culture. It made me realize just how rich our culture is. I am really glad that this trip had become some kind of a learning platform for me to learn more about our culture and how to appreciate it. If there is one thing I could do after this trip is to help encourage people to sustain handwritten batik, as it was one of the greatest heritage this country could offer.
Gloria Gwenda Wibowo
1st Year, Graduation Batch 2018
Personally, this field trip has taught me lots of things, more than I thought I would. Before, I thought that batik enterpreneurs produce their product in a factory. But Mrs. Ramini from KUB Srikandi Jeruk in Desa Jeruk, Rembang has proven my speculation wrong. Mrs. Ramini produce batik in the neighborhood of her home is the village. She only has 4 employees, all middle-aged women with family and children. Small number did not preclude the workers, they produce many exquisite batik desired by many people. One of the reason why Mrs. Ramini’s Batik consider as special was because she include Lasem Batik’s characteristic, such as latohan, gunung ringgit, kricak/watu pecah, and many more. Not only Lasem characteristic, Mrs. Ramini also made some batik with pattern influenced by Chinese heritage, like burung hong, dragon, dragon scale, etc. Mrs. Ramini also combining the Lasem’s characteristic with Chinese influce, so there are some pattern consist of burung hong and latohan, some of the pattern also influence by dutch heritage, like bouquet, and etc.
Similar to Mrs. Ramini, there are another enterpreneurs that resembled the style of Mrs. Ramini, and that is Mr. Santoso from Pusaka Beruang Batik. His batik has similar style to Mrs. Ramini because he combined both Lasem characteristic and another heritage. One Lasem charateristic that spotted at Mr. Santoso’s is the “ Tiga Negeri “ colour. Tiga negeri (three countries) consist of red, blue, and brown. If they want to make Empat Negeri (four countries) they add purple with the existing Tiga Negeri colour. Also, Lasem has a special color that make Lasem’s Batik special, that is Lasem’s Red.
Different from Mrs. Ramini, Mr. Santoso has more employees of more or less 150 people. He has a house in the village where his employees produce batik, and he has a store in the city to sell his product and control his batik shipments out of town. Mr. Santoso also told us the struggles he had overcome to get where he is now. His life story is a lesson that cannot obtained easily, its very inspiring and teach us not to give up, as long as we work hard and believed in God.
A lot of batik enterpreneurs in Lasem have tried to created their own signature style, and Mr. Sigit considered as one of them. He mixed Lasem characteristic with Chinese heritage too , but he add something that none else add, and that is chinese hanzi. He put poem in his batik, so his batik has meaning behind it. By adding this breakthrough to his product, Mr. Sigit managed to increased the value of his batik. Even though most people know what batik is, the still they do not know how the process of making it, the difficulty, its ups and downs. Through this trip not only I learned the basic thing about Lasem’s Batik, but also learned its characteristic,what makes it special and the struggles experience by the enterpreneurs.
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