One of the world’s most densely populated islands, Java has seen great kingdoms and empires rise, flourish and fall over millennia. Every city on this island has, at some point, been the home of a king and a centre of courtly arts. Dance, music, batik and other art forms developed distinct regional styles, inextricably linked to the patron dynasties of the Javanese kingdoms.
Before Indian and European trade brought commercial cotton cloths, Javanese women grew cotton plants, spun the thread by hand and drew batik designs in molten wax. They dyed the cloth with natural indigo and red and brown colours from forest plants. International trade brought to batik production wax-ready fabrics and the dizzying array of colours and patterns it is now known for, but the advent of cheaper, factory-made batik has resulted in an almost total loss of traditional techniques. By the 20th century, natural dye recipes and handwoven fabrics had nearly vanished from Java.
Tuban, a small rural province in east Java, is one of the last remaining pockets where traditional, hand-drawn batik coloured with natural dyes still survives. In comparison to batik from the better-known courts of Yogyakarta, Solo, Pekalongan and Cirebon, Tuban’s rare village-based artistic production has often been passed over. Yet the bold Tuban designs and vibrancy of natural colours reflect the rustic quality of traditional textiles, far from the halus(refined) ideal of the Javanese courts. The relationship to the land can be seen in the way the motifs are arranged as ricefields with culturally important crops along the perimeters. While most people in Java have converted to Islam, offerings and ceremonies for the land are still performed today. Tuban batik preserves the visual elements of rural Javanese culture which were once widespread but are now almost entirely extinct.
Originally Kerek, located in East Java, was a forested region and the people who lived in this region had a role in guarding the forests. This sayut is made using natural dyes natural with threads spun from cotton, and woven into a continuous 3 meter warp textile (gedog). After weaving, the motifs are drawn with wax, and repeatedly dyed with natural dyes.
A sayut is then used as a shoulder sling to carry a child or goods to the market or from the field to the home. The macramé fringes are called krawangan and are made after the cloth is woven and before the cloth is batiked.
Jarit is a single panel handspun batik textile worn by women. It is wrapped around the waist as a skirt. The jarit cloth denotes high status. The structure is a representation of the agricultural rice growing landscapes. The centerfield of a jarit textile has the same name as a dry field – pelemahan. The elongated diamond pattern (tumpuI) is representative of young bamboo and the section between the tumpul and centerfield is where special rice varieties and culturally significant plants are planted.
Originally Kerek was a forested region and the people who lived in this region had a role in guarding the forests. The textiles of Kerek in East Java, still refer to the different classes of people and their relationship to land stewardship. Batik lurik is a handspun textile with batik patterns which in the past was made for the rice farmers. These were considered to have the highest social status amongst the lurik types of textiles. Batik lurik is made with handspun white or heirloom brown cotton and woven to create a checkered pattern. A batik pattern is then drawn within these checkered sections.