Archive for the ‘batik’ Category

Fabric – a Powerful Souvenir

Thursday, November 1st, 2007

Recently one of my sisters sent me two offcut pieces from a length of batik she’d bought in Cirebon on the northern side of Java, Indonesia, back in around 1977 during a time she was working there. Like many of us who buy fabric, at the time she didn’t know what she was going to do with it, only that she loved the colours and the pattern in this totally outstanding piece.

She says not only is the pattern a very special one – but the colours are unusual, too: a little black, some dark chocolate brown, then there’s green, turquoise, creamy yellow and white. The sense of depth is incredible. As with all traditional textile crafts anywhere in the world, today’s patterns reflect a history of cultural influences responding to new political conditions. So for those who can read this batik, it displays C13 chinese cultural influences from the time of Kublai Kan. The Dutch colonial period and mid C20 movement to independence were factors in the rise of Yogyakarta and the concurrent decline of this region’s importance in batik production. No, I don’t claim to be able to read it, I am just passing on what my sister told me about this piece, but I have put Cirebon on my list of places I need to visit.

A few months ago, looking for something to cover a panel or screen in her home, she found this forgotten piece in her box. I haven’t seen the screen yet, but I also wonder what else is in that box …

Partly for scale but also to add to the perspective of this beautiful, elegant fabric, I snapped it with a pair of enormous sunglasses from the same era, 1975. I still occasionally wear these, they have always been favs, and they do make some kind of statement, – always did. They live in a bag I whipped up from scraps of fabric I used in the 1981 to make a bedspread. The pondy/murky khaki and turquoise print is a batiked cotton twill I bought in Malaysia, around 1973.

Following the theme of a recent post on Souvenirs with Meaning (Oct 1 2007) this one also evokes a lot of memories. (coincidentally that too, was prompted by batik) My sister now has in her home a daily reminder of several years’ living and working in Jakarta. This same fabric prompted memories from my own, totally different, life experiences at around the same time …. what a powerful souvenir a piece of fabric can be.

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Souvenirs With Meaning

Monday, October 1st, 2007

What a nice french word ‘souvenir’ is – and in spanish ‘recuerdo’ or memory.
Most of us associate souvenirs with tacky little doodads with “Made in (place being visited)” stamped or carved somewhere prominent on some object associated with the country being visited. So, for Australia than measns pretty well anything boomerang shaped, with or without a dotted surface, anything with the Sydney Opera House, Uluru, kangaroos, koalas playpuses, Vegemite… these and more are images or icons of Oz. In Egypt you have the choice of little leather camels, masses of little models of pharoahs sphinxs and prominent gods, pyramids of every size, technique and material you can imagine, metal cartouches to put on a chain around your neck and you can have your own made in about 20 minutes… all of these things say ‘Egypt’ . In Uruguay there are some wonderful souvenir thingies, including some really very nice hand made objects. Unfortunately here many are routinely spoiled by having “Made in Uruguay” or “Souvenir of Uruguay” painted or carved across them. There are little model candombe drummers, models of typical rural houses, some nice leather coin purses, sets of leather and wooden coasters with criollo designs, small table items like butter knives with bone handles – but many of them are ‘branded’ – it’s something that always bothers me. I think, that like me, people buy something to act as an aide memoire of the time spent and experiences enjoyed while visiting somewhere. I don’t think they are meant to present as proof that they were there. I am sure people would buy these things if they are not emblazoned with the name of the country/city. I have a thing about it.

As a maker of quilted textiles I always have my eye out in any direction where fabric lurks – here or abroad – you never know. In one nice little French town on our recent trip I spotted a table of bright, wildly printed fabrics, which turned out to be batik from the Congo. Most European countries had colonial involvement there and I imagine there is still trade, if these fabrics were anything to go by. In the pile I found this wonderful piece, featuring eggs chickens hens and roosters. Since the cockerel is the fauna emblem of France, an icon so to speak, although less in your face than the Eiffel Tower, and since they eat an incredible number of eggs judging by the menus we were faced with, I thought this wonderful 3 and 1/2m length of high quality batiked cotton fabric would be a good souvenir. What I will do with it is not really the point – but I will probably use it some time.

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