Batik Art | An Ancient Unique Visual Craft
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Batik is an ancient art which uses wax and dyes to create a visual magic on fabrics. The word ‘batik’ is derived from the Indonesian word ambatik, which can be translated to ‘wax writing’.
It is an art appreciated all over the world.
A Batik creation involves three basic steps – waxing, dyeing, and scraping. Batik is an ancient form of handloom and fabric painting in which the fabric is printed with wax resist before being dyed.
Batik is a time consuming and meticulous technique of decorating fabric by hand. The fabric first goes through a wax resist application process before being dyed. The fabric then undergoes a de-waxing process wherein the wax is carefully cracked to reveal the contrasting colours of the design. Batik’s signature characteristic is the effect created by the wax cracking on the fabric.
There are three methods of batik printing: the splash method, screen printing method and hand painting method with the use of a Kalamkari pen.
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As designs are drawn on the fabric rather than being woven with thread, batik allows for artistic freedom. This ensures each and every product of batik is truly one of a kind, ingrained with the unique artistic style of the artisan. Batik printed fabric is known for its longevity and is often passed down as a family heirloom.
Evidence of early examples of batik have been found in the Far East, Middle East, Central Asia and India from over 2000 years ago. Batik was practised in China as early as the Sui Dynasty (AD 581-618). These were silk batiks and these have also been discovered in Nara, Japan in the form of screens and ascribed to the Nara period (AD 710-794).
No evidence of very old cotton batiks have been found in India but frescoes in the Ajanta caves depict head wraps and garments which could well have been batiks.
In Egypt linen and occasionally woollen fabrics have been excavated bearing white patterns on a blue ground and are the oldest known and date from the 5th century A.D.
In central Africa resist dyeing using cassava and rice paste has existed for centuries in the Yoruba tribe of Southern Nigeria and Senegal.
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Indonesia, most particularly the island of Java, is the area where batik has reached the greatest peak of accomplishment. The Dutch brought Indonesian craftsmen to teach the craft to Dutch warders in several factories in Holland from 1835. A wax block form of printing was developed in Java using a cap.
By the early 1900s the Germans had developed mass production of batiks. There are many examples of this form of batik as well as hand-produced work in many parts of the world today. Computerisation of batik techniques is a very recent development.
Today, traditional and contemporary batik are equally adored by both the East and the West. Batik prints can be found on traditional items such as sarees, dupattas and wall hangings, and on contemporary products, including dresses, bags, accessories and home furnishing.
Shantiniketan in West Bengal is the art hub for batik.
The ancient craft of batik is preserved at Visva-Bharati University in West Bengal, an institution founded by the Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. Today, Mundra and Mandvi in Gujarat’s Kutch district are the main centres of batik production. Shantiniketan in West Bengal is the art hub for batik. Batik is also prominent in Indore, Madhya Pradesh.
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