Art comes in many forms and serves many purposes. It serves as self-expression, has aesthetic value, and acts as a way of communication. Hyper realistic art, abstract art, and modern art are examples of highly-adorned genres these days.
For Malaysia, art comes in the form of batik, a cultural heritage that is ingrained into the rich history of Malaysia and other Asian countries alike.
“What exactly is batik?” you may ask.
Simply put, batik is a type of textile art that is famous in Malaysia and is a proud cultural practice of Malaysia, passed down from generation to generation.
Malaysia boasts of beautiful batik designs that are used for many occasions, especially during festive events such as Eid celebrations.
Batik motifs are common patterns of floral elements, leaves, and vines. Because it is usually handmade, they are designed in a way that each piece is never the same and is unique from one another.
Batik is extremely popular in many Southeast Asian countries as it offers artistic freedom without having to weave in threads. Not to mention how durable and long-lasting they are compared to printed fabrics!
Origin and History
Malaysian batik was heavily influenced by trade relations between the Malay peninsula and Indonesian coastal cities. Although similar to Indonesian batik, Malaysian batik has its flair as larger patterns are used, and Malaysians tend to use lighter, more vibrant colors.
Batik was first mentioned in Malaysia in the 17th century, based on evidence from the Malay Annals, when the Sultan of the Malay peninsula ordered one of his servants to travel to India to bring him 140 pieces of batik, which had 40 different flower designs on each piece.
As the servant was unable to find any, he ended up making his own batik for the Sultan. Unfortunately, his voyage back home was met with unfortunate circumstances when his ship sank, and he was only able to present four pieces to the Sultan.
Commercial production of batik in Malaysia began in the 1960s and has since become an important part of daily Malaysian wear and culture. Nowadays, batik is a common sight in any state, but it is most famous in Malaysia’s east coast states, which are Kelantan, Terengganu, and Pahang.
Batik has also become a tradition to wear on Fridays, and in some schools, it has become compulsory to wear it on a specific day of the week. It is also casual wear for men and even sleepwear for women!
(Batik kaftan, common sleepwear for women in Malaysia due to how comfortable the material is)
The word ‘batik’ comes from the Javanese term, ‘amba,’ which means ‘to write’ and ‘titik’ which means dot. The meaning is closely related to the techniques that are used in the process of making batik pieces. Despite strong influences from Indonesia, the original batik technique is said to have originated from Egypt and China.
Batik is first made by selecting a piece of cotton or silk fabric– the finer, the better. Patterns are then drawn onto the fabric with a pencil, before retracing it using hot wax and a fine brush, usually made from paraffin or beeswax. Sometimes, a tool called the ‘canting’ is used to create more intricate designs as it allows for more control. The canting will add the wax onto the fabric drop by drop, creating small dots that make a fine line, hence the name ‘titik,’ which means dots.
Another tool that can be used is a copper handstamp, which already has patterns carved out of the bottom to efficiently cover larger pieces of fabric with repeating patterns.
The wax is allowed to dry, and once it does, the dye is painted onto the fabric. Different colored parts of the fabric are separated by the wax, which acts as a dye-resistant. Alternatively, dipping the fabric in dye and leaving it to dry is also a popular method.
Finally, the wax is scraped off or removed by boiling the whole fabric.
Malaysia has since then progressed into more than just traditional floral designs. More simplistic designs with geometrical patterns are more common these days in the batik industry.
People are showing more interest in more simplistic designs that are aesthetically pleasing on high-quality fabrics, and Malaysia is not short of designers who have taken the opportunity to satisfy this interest.
(Piala Seri Endon, an annual batik designing competition which allows artists to create modern designs and display them on a runway.)
During Eid celebrations, Malaysian women often wear batik designs as skirts. Fashion designers are quick to come up with creative twists to make batik more appealing to modern-day women.
(Various batik designs worn during Eid celebration by designer, Syomirizwa Gupta)
Despite modernization, batik’s traditional essence is always close to every Malaysian’s heart and is worn every now and then.
Where to get your own batik
Now that we’ve shown you how gorgeous and versatile the batik is, it’s time to get a batik piece of your own!
Batik prices may vary based on the intricacy of the artwork, craftsmanship, and quality of the fabric. You can easily find printed batik designs, which may cost as low as RM10 (USD$2.50) at street shops while touristing in Malaysia. It is always good to ask the store owner if the batik being sold is printed or handmade, as some are of low quality and may be fake.
In contrast, some batik can cost up to a few thousand dollars for the technicality and long hours involved in creating it.
Here are a few famous local online stores from Malaysia in case you can’t wait to get your hands on some batik pieces!
FERN — A high-end brand, specializing in modern designs of batik.
MaryamBayam.com — A brand that sells all sorts of affordable batik goods, such as traditional attire called baju kurung, batik earrings, and batik headbands!
The Batik Boutique — A brand that sells batik apparel for women, men, and even children! All for an affordable price. They even have free shipping internationally for orders above USD$100.
Otherwise, you can make your own batik by going for workshops in Malaysia!