The intricate art of BATIK

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By 2017-04-16

By Amelia Ryan
Ceylon Today Features

Sri Lanka which is also known as the paradise island is a country that is famed for a number of things ranging from its rice and curry, tropical weather, sandy beaches and so forth. While 'Batik' is originally a Javanese technique of art, at present Sri Lanka is renowned for its batik clothing, wall hangings and other arte crafts involving this technique amongst both Sri Lankans as well as tourists visiting Sri Lanka from across the globe. Without doubt we all do love our ever famous comfy batik sarongs and dresses but not many of us know the procedure by which the intricate colourful designs are used to decorate cloth. Being a part of the group that isn't quite aware on how the batik industry functions, Ceylon Today went on an expedition to the Prasanna Batiks factory In order to have an insight on how it all works.

A visit to the Prasanna Batiks factory located at Wellampitiya has been a great opportunity in acknowledging the manner in which batik items are fabricated. The whole process of drawing and dyeing a piece of cloth isn't as simple as walking into a shop and buying a batik garment. Having had the opportunity to speak to the highly talented artist at Prasanna Batiks at present was indeed a moment of discovering real aptitude. Ashoka, who has worked at the factory for over 13 years, is one of the most treasured assets of this factory as a result of his artistic skills. Although modern technology has come into play, Ashoka uses his imaginative skills to come up with unique and creative designs which he then draws freehanded without the use of any form of stencil. While each design is detailed and unique in its own sense, it takes this talented individual a maximum of only two hours to complete a design.

Before the good is finalized for sale, each batik item goes through five stages during the manufacturing process. The first stage involves drawing the design on to the cloth and this is then sent onto the second stage which is the stage at which wax is used on the fabric in order to prevent the dye from penetrating the cloth. In a calm and quiet room, three pots of boiling wax sit by the side while patient ladies wax the fabric using a funnel occasionally dipping it into a pot of wax to refill the funnel. Once the fabric is waxed, it is kept aside in order for it to solidify. Before the waxed fabric is sent for dyeing which is the third stage, it is manually crushed using one's hands, as this helps in creating a cracked effect on batik clothes. After this is done the fabric is dipped into a cement basin of water and dye depending on the colour allocated for the particular fabric. This sector of the factory has an array of cement basins with different vibrant colours of dyes in which fabrics are allowed to soak and then put out to dry.

The fourth stage is one of the most important stages as this is when the waxed and dyed fabric is put into a barrel of hot water in order for the wax to melt off the cloth. Once this is done the fabric is taken out of the barrel and is washed in running water to make sure that no wax remains on the cloth. After the washed fabric dries completely it is sent for the fifth and final stage of the process. It is at this stage that the fabrics are shaped and sewn into the final outcome which many of us love wearing. This process starts off with the cutting of the material using shaped blocks as this helps in cutting the material precisely. Cutting material all day sounds quite boring doesn't it? Yet, the man behind this task is immensely focused in his work and does so with great enthusiasm. These materials that are shaped are then sewn and ironed to create the final product.

Prasanna Batiks which has been established for almost 30 years serves a group of mixed clients with 50% of their customers being locals and the other 50% being tourists. Aside from this they also cater to export orders whilst outsourcing items such as batik wall hangings. Some of the goods manufactured at the Prasanna Batiks factory are, house coats, children's wear, men's wear, women's wear, bed sheets and so forth. According to Director of Prasanna Batiks, Lishan Wickramanayke, the batik industry cannot survive if they don't meet the latest trends. As a result of this, the artists and designers in this field try to maintain a Sri Lankan identity with their products whilst infusing a modern touch. Although batik is seen to be traditional, at present outlets such as Prasanna Batiks design their clothes in a more fashionable manner by focusing on meeting the trend with a traditional twist.

A modern twist

As women, many of us like our lingerie to be somewhat pretty and fancy. Taking this into consideration, founder and owner of Pras and Danties, Dinushi Pamunuwa has created a modern twist by infusing batik into lingerie. Dinushi, who is originally from Kandy, holds a degree in design from the Academy of Design which she puts to use by designing the batik lingerie that is sold under her brand. On being asked to briefly share with us a little bit about her brand, she expressed the following. "Pras and Danties as a brand was launched in January 2015 and the product launch took place in December 2015. Sri Lanka manufactures lingerie for many well known international brands so I wanted to use that to create something unique. At present many individuals print batik instead of doing it the authentic way. Taking all this into account, I started my brand Pras and Danties to give lingerie a touch of uniqueness by designing and producing batik lingerie. Pras and Danties focuses on three key factors namely quality, functionality and comfort as I seek to give my customers the best of products."

Sensing this talented individual's love towards designing and batik, Ceylon Today questioned her on what inspires her to design.

"I love working with colours and abstract trends. There isn't any specific thing that I draw inspiration from as I can draw inspiration from pretty much anything. Be it food, music, atmosphere or even the places I visit can inspire me to sketch a design.

I chose to go with batik designs because I find batik to be very distinctive as the quirkiness tends to keep the craft alive", shared Dinushi.

Aspiring to open up her own store in the future, Dinushi sells her products at Odel whilst her lounge wear collection is sold at the Good Market and her swim wear collection is sold through social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram. Despite the batik process and manufacturing being outsourced, Dinushi makes sure that all her batik lingerie is produced the authentic way which involves the five stage process as mentioned above. According to Dinushi, it is locals who truly appreciate batik items as they understand the craft, eventhough foreigners also loving it.

The plus and the minus

Just as any other industry the batik industry too has its pros and cons speaking to Ceylon Today, explained the advantages and disadvantages in being a part of this industry. "Some of the advantages in running a batik factory are that it is something that is traditional and not many people can involve themselves in this industry. However on the flip side it has its drawbacks as well. The batik industry as unique as it is quite dependent on the tourism industry as we aim to attract tourists as well. Likewise, the prices of raw materials such as dye and wax keeps increasing and meeting this can be problematic sometimes."

The lady behind Pras and Danties too agreed that the batik industry can have its plus and minus points as she stated, "In terms of drawbacks I would say that this is a very unpredictable industry as we depend on things like good weather for the fabric to dry properly so that the desired colour can be achieved. On the same note, the process in which batik designs are done is tedious and thus not many people want to get involved. Apart from the few drawbacks that this industry holds I believe that the batik industry is special as you can never have two pieces of the same kind. It also has a touch of naturalness as the cracks that appear on batik fabrics are not something that can be achieved in any other way. In addition to this, the batik industry is also unusual because the final product is always a pleasant surprise."

A tinge of history

Amidst being highly fascinated by the manner in which batik is manufactured, the thought of how something of Javanese origin has become such a significant part of Sri Lankan culture seemed to disturb my thoughts of fascination. Wickramanayake who has been in this industry for many years shared the manner in which the art of batik arrived in Sri Lanka. "Batik is originally a technique of art that was significantly popular in Indonesia, especially in the island of Java. It then moved onto India and has been quite popular there too. However, batik was initially brought to Sri Lanka during its period of colonization by the Dutch and the Portuguese. The art of batik synced extremely well with Sri Lankan taste in fashion and has now become a significant part of Sri Lankan culture."

The art of batik is not something that anyone can engage themselves in as it involves a lot of artistic skills and creativity.

According to Wickramanayake the employees are trained before they officially start working at the factory. However there is no specific period of training as it all depends on the individual's skills. If an individual has a sense of creativity in them it only takes up to seven days for them to be qualified to be a part of the factory.

Apart from the artistic skills, creativity and the appealing outcome, this industry also requires a great deal of patience. Having had the opportunity to have a firsthand experience on how it is all done and watching each individual's dedication towards their task was indeed commendable. Batik, though not originally a Sri Lankan form of art, is currently used as a source to express Sri Lankan culture and its significance.

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