Today, October 2nd, is Batik Day. I heard it was UNESCO that fixed it. I heard Indonesia’s government recommended, established, and promoted the moment. It’s pretty much an exciting idea to be able to wear batik for a day and stroll around the city pavements without having to feel overly formal.
When I was a little kid, I used to see my grandfather wearing batik. I always remember many parts of my childhood through how they smell; and my first encounter with “batik” was the traditionally-patterned shirts with the smell of jasmine-scented, premium mothballs permeating in my grandfather’s fine-wood armoire. Immediately, I associated batik with age.
As I grew up this association didn’t fade. In fact, it was justified even stronger. It’s not uncommon for us to comment that wearing batik makes us look like “Pak RT” giving speech in a local August 17 Fair and Carnival. If not that, wearing batik definitely make us look old and unnecessarily mature – since it is akin to what the older generation wear when attending ceremonies, formal parties, or wedding invitations. For cool young folks like us, we wear suits, fine-sheened jeans, and modern-design shirts. I’m used to not having batik for these reason of not wanting to look/seem old, and I especially hate its neat structure and too-polite persona.
In present occasions requiring me to dress up in a “national” outfit, perhaps in an international formal dining or championship parties, I came into realization that batik is the most convenient, least hassled, and straightforward expression of the Indonesian nationality. A batik shirt is very easy to find, make, and adjust to your personal liking. I start to think that maybe batik isn’t so bad after all, and, hey, those patterns are unique! I wanted a phoenix-patterned batik when I was searching for textile sheets not so long ago at Kings Dalem Kaum. Too bad the silk-woven finery had a price entirely consequent to its quality – and my pocket at that moment yelled: it’s either this purchase or literal full-month fasting.
It’s even more concerning for me as batik is one of the cultural items fueling the feud between two Malacca Strait countries. There are many version of the issue: the most extreme says that batik is being claimed as the cultural heritage of Malaysia’s; the cool-headed ones reports that what’s being formally claimed by Malaysian government is one type of batik pattern originating from their local area, not those that are Indonesian. Either way, what’s ultimately formed in Indonesia is the large batch of national concern regarding batik – a traditional textile production which crafty, teak-hued tastes can be described as the sweetened mocha coffee of the mystical world of wayang (leather shadow puppets).
The young eye for local culture has been pretty arid recently. Many cultural items and practices lose the support of the youths, consequently being in the verge of extinction. The paradigm of batik as ‘old’ and ‘too-formal’ is just one example. Obviously this is worrying, since the richness of batik is too precious to let die. Efforts of rescue were launched. It’s very common to see many fashion designers blending batik into their design, one of the most notable names is Anne Avantie – her batik and kebaya designs had graced so many celebrities and important people in huge-scale events. The department of Kriya (Crafts) at the ITB Art Faculty were pretty active promoting batik in newer, more relevant wears. However, a sporadic, decentralized effort always have its limitations. Learning from the precedent of the Indonesian Struggle for Independence, the message of a sporadic movement always remain in their respective loci, churn within the same category of suspectedly already-concerned people, and never grand enough to call for a unified, mountain-moving attention.
I feel that Batik Day is the perfect next step for localized concerns: it elevates individual voices into a national symbolism. And not only that, it’s also fashionable and fun. Fashionable in the sense that nowadays, retro is the new groove. I personally adore vocalists like Amy Winehouse and Duffy with their rejuvenated version of Dusty Springfield in Cadillac. Old styles like Aladdin pants, high-waist tapered-pants, and 70s dragonfly shades are back on their hip feet. As for batik, it is next! Batik Day engineers a new visual normality. When previously it’s uncommon to see young people doing what’s considered as hip daily activities like going to the mall wearing batik (obviously aside from batik as school uniforms), now it’s back into being common. Batik Day erases the perspective of ‘something’s wrong with you if you take a nonchalant promenade wearing batik’. I saw alays wearing batik, how admirable! Perhaps after this, the pop industry such as distros, major garment retailers, mall shops, and magazines will be gushed with demand, and in response release, batik-printed branded clothes and items for young people to associate with. What a cool renewal of a classic flavor!
Besides the fashion statement, Batik Day is also showing that it’s possible to adjust cultural stuffs into your normal days, and it’s very easy to do so. Simply wear a shirt or a dress or a skirt or even a bag from batik becomes a simple but audible statement of cultural concern. It reverses the old paradigm that if you are concerned with culture you always have to do BIG things such as mastering the intricate musicality of gamelan, spend so much time in massive groups for Saman synchronization, or trying to peel your eye to the side in Bali dances. There are other simple ways, and still a statement nevertheless. It feels better that the statement is acknowledged by friends and peers; even by your eating place – like many restaurants such as Rice Bowl in Bandung Indah Plaza, one that I experienced – that gives you a 15% discount when you’re wearing anything with a batik pattern on it. That feels like fun and it makes many feel that the strive of ‘protecting culture’ isn’t such an arduous heroism after all.
The last thing is… it’s always nice to share a cause with many. Quite frankly, other festivals like August 17 had become so repetitively cliché that it loses its essence of being meaningful to many, while festivals like Lebaran and Christmas are simply within their religious borders. Batik Day benefits from the issue being very current, and with its large-accommodating ability, it feels like a meaningful, universal festive where everyone regardless of difference can join. If there’s still meaning left to the phrase “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika”, I think Batik Day is one.
At the end of the day, Batik Day is a heartening unified battlecry. I relish that Batik Day is such a fun thing to do. I’m glad that I can feel meaningful towards an important part of my culture with my one small step; I’m hoping that I can feel meaningful for many other small steps in many other issues as well, that it finally accumulates into a better Indonesia. In the future, there are possibilities there will be cultural days that are just as fun and easy-breezy. Ain’t it hopeful?
When many yells “Ganyang Malaysia”, proclaiming war, and many other irrationally provocative statements, I wonder whether the dispute over batik is actually, and should be perceived as, a favor for us and our cultural rescue.