Thursday, July 28, 2011, 00:00
Championing the art of batik
For Carmanita, a renowned Indonesian fashion designer, batik is very special, and essential, too. It runs in her veins.
She belongs to a family in Central Java which is deeply rooted in the tradition. Her grandmother, Bintang Sudibyo, better known as Ibu Sud, was not only a Sulawesi-born accomplished music composer, but also a highly respected batik artist. She was particularly famous for her ‘terang bulan’ (moonlight) motif which still exemplifies Soekarno’s (Indonesia’s first president) concept of Indonesian batik.
Sure, the genetic influence has been overriding on Carmanita who admits that she has inherited her love for the traditional Indonesian batik and fabric design from her late grandmother.
“I see batik as an essential part of Indonesian life, an important part of everyday living. It is our heritage. My grandmother inspired me. I started with traditional batik patterns and later on, developed it into more universal, but with traditional characteristics,” says Carmanita whose trademark batik on Lycra fashion items are considered among the most visible motifs in the Indonesian fashion industry.
Not really content with her fame and celebrity status, Carmanita is on a quest to preserve and further develop Indonesian batik, and also determined to take her country’s batik to other places in the world and get noticed. For her, it’s not just a piece of fashionable clothing or a statement of style, but an insignia she wants to popularize, not just in Indonesia, but in other countries across the globe, too. Already she has held a number of exhibitions in various parts of Asia, Africa, Europe and America.
Today, Carmanita is regarded as a fashion designer that uses batik in her collections. Her inspiration comes from all sorts of things, but mainly nature. She also uses many tools for waxing and dying, and works with various fabrics – from cotton to silk to Lycra.
“Carmanita’s style is contemporary and beautiful. (But) her creations are a bit too modern and too pricey for me. I usually choose the more conservative (batiks) and cheaper ones,” says singer Dieke Rosa.
Architect Leni Sindhu has a different opinion: “I love her designs, especially the earth colors and ethnic style of her clothes like those that feature buttons made from coins. I think her contemporary style fits me perfectly. I have a couple of her tie-dye collections.”
Founder of QB Leadership Center Betti Alisjahbana agrees. “Carmanita chooses interesting colors for her batik creations. She often paints the batik herself. Batik is a very beautiful work of art. I always buy ‘batik tulis’ (batik with hand written wax-resistant dying technique) to appreciate the complexity of the batik-making process.”
“Carmanita and I went to the same elementary school because we were neighbors,” says Ira Siddharta, a fan of the designer’s clothes. “I love her designs. Her clothes are loose. Her designs and patterns are very beautiful, either with abstract or traditional motifs. She works wonders with these motifs for her clothes.”
Sure, she does, but for the moment she is more concerned about how to preserve this heritage.
A lot of work needs to be done, says Carmanita, who has from the beginning of her career, worked with many local batik artisans.
They are the backbone of the industry in Indonesia, she says, underscoring the importance of keeping local artisans working and producing.
“I struggled (to revive and promote) batik making for many years,” she says. “I went from one province to the other all over Indonesia to help them develop their own batik style and train local artisans at their hometowns. I take my full team whenever I go to these provinces, and make sure that the artisans learn from the best so they can continue by themselves.”
She says, “When I went to Jambi in the island of Sumatra to work with batik artisans there, I learned that their batik style had several influences … from Java, from Sumatra, as well as from Gujarat in India.
“I helped them develop their own, and then my team and I showed them how to make the correct colors for their batik. Now we can see that their batik has their own character.
“For me, the most important is for the artisans to have the skills to produce their own batik.”
The skills of the artisans are of course not the only issue. Raw materials are also very important.
Makassar in South Sulawesi is famous for its ‘sutera ikat’ (handwoven silk) and used to supply the raw silk locally, but not anymore.
“Artisans in Makassar now buy silk yarns from West Java or import them from China,” Carmanita explains.
“We have a serious problem now because starting this year China is not exporting as much as before. Now when we want to buy silk yarns from them, we have to go through a tender/bidding process. Why can’t the (Indonesian) government develop a strong and reliable silk industry so we can meet domestic demand ourselves?”
For this, Carmanita’s fond wish is that the Indonesian government will learn from China. To ensure that Indonesian batik stays on the UNESCO’s list, the government has to start mapping the industry, and support it with good and reliable infrastructure.
“In Indonesia, we struggle all the time. Our basic infrastructure is very bad. But I think we still produce some of the greatest batik designs in the world. We have to be different. Designers have to be always different. I am unique. I am different. I would love to work with Chinese artists and combine their exquisite embroideries with Indonesian batik. I think it would be a wonderful project!” she adds.
China Daily Asia Weekly on May 13, 2011, page 23
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