Young Indonesians Take Their Cultural Heritage Forward on National Batik Day
13 October 2021
Batik is Indonesia's best-known fabric and an important economic contributor. Here is how young creatives are keeping the art alive.
Batik, the technique of creating patterns on textiles with wax-resistant dyes, is a living art passed down by generations of Indonesians. But today's artists, already struggling to compete with commercially produced versions of their product, face an uncertain future amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Oct 2, Indonesia’s National Batik Day, UNESCO Jakarta and its partner Citi Foundation hosted a virtual celebration of batik called "Batik: Karsa Adhikari." With a name taken from the Sanskrit words “intention” and “special,” UNESCO’s online commemoration explored the cultural roots of batik and gathered experts to discuss how to make the industry more sustainable.
“Batik is both an expression of Indonesia’s cultural heritage and an economic lifeline for hundreds of thousands of people, many of them living in rural communities that have been hit hard by the pandemic,” says Valerie Julliand, UN Resident Coordinator for Indonesia, “youth engagement is vital to keeping the artform alive for generations to come.”
Batik is a living art. It touches all aspects of Indonesian life: from the batik slings designed to bring luck to the babies they cradle, to the funary garments in which the dead are often shrouded. But it is time consuming and labour intensive to create. Handcrafting an intricately patterned garment can take weeks, but mass-produced prints can be produced far cheaper and saturate the market in days. Even before the pandemic, that made for tough conditions for some 18,000 small and micro-scale batik businesses currently registered with Indonesia’s Ministry of Industry. But COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted small enterprises, heaping pressure on young creatives in one of Indonesia’s most traditional sectors.
It was recognition of the cultural and economic importance of Indonesian batik that prompted UNESCO to designate the art a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity on Oct 2, 2009. Twelve years since that designation, there is renewed urgency for young people to embrace the artform if it is to survive into the future, speakers from the Indonesian Government, UNESCO, and the private sector emphasized at Batik: Karsa Adhikari.
"Youth engagement is a must,” said UNESCO Jakarta Director Mohamed Djelid, “To this end, however, we have to empower [young people] with the means to take this heritage forward."
To ensure that young people engaged in batik production have a fighting chance of survival, UNESCO and Citi Indonesia established Kita Muda Kreatif four years ago. It helps nurture young creatives as they strive towards building sustainable businesses. The programme has provided business capacity-building to over 400 young cultural entrepreneurs living around UNESCO designated sites and other popular tourist destinations in Indonesia.
The CEO of Citi Indonesia, Batara Sianturi praised the programme’s achievements in a year that COVID-19 has stretched the sector to the limit. Cultural industries such as batik not only provide decent employment opportunities, they also help make the economy more inclusive as they favour young people and women as key actors, he said. "I'm glad to see that more than 50 percent of participants in the Kita Muda Kreatif program are female,” Sianturi told the audience, “I believe that they can bring positive contributions to anything they do."
In the run up to Batik: Karsa Adhikari, UNESCO and its partner had provided educational kits to hundreds of kindergarten and elementary school students containing eco-friendly dyes. At the event, they practised making batik patterns on a plant pot guided by the co-hosts.
Central Java's Deputy Governor Taj Yasin Maimoen applauded the young students’ awareness of batik. He encouraged young people to wear batik as an expression of national pride and learn about their ancestors through studying its motifs and patterns. But he also reminded them to pay attention to the waste from the batik industry, advocating the use of natural dyes to protect the environment.
UNESCO’s event wrapped up with a virtual tour of a batik-producing village in Klaten, Central Java, and a fashion market promoting batik products from young creatives as part of the Kita Muda Kreatif programme.
"Batik is our cultural heritage,” said Khaleili Nungki Hashifah, the owner of Creative Batik in Yogyakarta and one of the artists whose work was displayed, “it is our responsibility to love and preserve it."
Watch the recorded "Batik: Karsa Adhikari" event below.