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  • Behind the Motif: 5 Ancient Batik Patterns of Coastal Java
  • Aqilah Zailan

Behind the Motif: 5 Ancient Batik Patterns of Coastal Java

On the coasts of Java, where the sea route connected Indonesia to the world, a different kind of batik was born. Unlike the stoic and structured patterns of Central Java, the motifs of coastal batik are unconstrained and uninhibited in both pattern and colour. With influences from China, Arab and India, gentle scenes of nature like flowers, fish and animals reflected life on the coast.

    1. Mega Mendung

    Batik Meaning Textile Stories Asia

    In Cirebon on the north coast, the mega mendung pattern is inspired by Chinese iconography. Clouds are a bringer of rain and are regarded as symbols of fertility and life.

    2. Vines 


    Also called Gangan, Vines are a common feature of coastal batik. They are usually depicted to bring together the virtues behind various symbols. In the above example, drawings of dragons (prosperity), phoenix (loyalty) & other creatures are united by vines, signifying strength in unity.

    3. Floral Batik



    Flowers are frequently depicted on coastal batik. These florals may have also been inspired by European bouquet ideas (such as daffodils seen in the piece above) that the Dutch brought along with them during colonisation. While the role of flowers may be purely aesthetic, one can argue that the full story behind the batik can be interpreted by looking at the full piece. It is not unusual for some kind of meaning to be embedded into the batik by the artist.

    In the city of Pekalongan, women batik artists are not uncommon. Each of them developed a distinct style that eventually became their signatures. Above are batik pieces by renowned batik artists Eliza van Zuylen and Liem Siok Hien, dating back to the early 1900s. 

    4. Butterflies


    5. Dragons, Elephants and Lions

    Batik Meaning Textile Stories Asia

    Beautiful, colourful butterflies adorn many pieces of coastal batik, and can usually be found together with flowers. As with flowers, their meaning may be based on the interpretation of the artist's work as a whole.

    Other animal characters like dragons, elephants and lions when embedded in batik hold strong significance especially in relation to Hinduism and Chinese culture. Elephants are reminiscent of Lord Ganesh while dragons and lions denote power and prosperity.

     

    The patterns of coastal batik are unique, dynamic and even contemporary. The people, often described as freewheeling are uninhibited, using synthetic dyes to add excitement to their art. Beyond the symbolism of a pattern, colours can also have meaning; Pastel colours for young females, and deeper hues for adults. Red is also often used for good luck and happiness. 

    References and credits:

    Gangan Batik from the collection of Inger McCabe Elliott, New York, ca. 1910-1920, Cirebon, artist unknown.

    Floral Batik 1 from the collection of Inger McCabe Elliott, New York, ca. 1910-1920, Pekalongan by Eliza Van Zuylen.

    Floral Batik 2 from the collection of Jane Hendromartono, ca. 1972, Pekalongan.

    Butterfly Batik from the collection of Inger McCabe Elliott, New York, ca. 1960, Kedungwuni, by Oey Soe Tjoen.

    Elephant Batik by Silvain de Munck

    Last batik from the collection of Anita E. Spertus and Robert J. Holmgren, New York, ca. 1890-1900, Pekalongan, artist unknown.

    All other images are our own, and subject to strict copyright regulations.

    • Aqilah Zailan

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