Sarawak batik is rapidly gaining popularity among Malaysians as its authenticity gives it an edge over the imported designs, said Azran Arip, the director of the Malaysian Handicraft Development Corporation Sarawak (Kraf Sarawak). It is being widely incorporated in their daily collection as well as outfits for special occasions.
The art of batik refers to the technique of designing patterns on a textile using wax and dye, either drawn freehand using the "canting" tool or by stamping blocks of batik motifs onto the surface of the textile.
Its uniqueness lies in the varying results. It is thus impossible for any piece of hand drawn or block-printed batik to look alike with another.
Batik is a deeply-symbolic traditional art form that originated from the Malay islands. Its ethnic motifs once represented the social status of those garbed in it.
It is technically quite similar with the batik from Terengganu and Kelantan. Price-wise, it can hardly compete with the offerings from Indonesia, China, India or Korea.
Many of the batik sold in the bazaars in the streets and sometimes even at the ones at pricy boutiques could hardly be categorized as batik, as its motifs and production methods clearly differed.
In fact, there are only five batik makers who produce authentic Sarawak batik; two in Kuching, two in Miri and one in Betong.
Azran said that he, along with several instructors and local batik makers, were actively advocating authentic Sarawak batik designs. This is in line with the awareness that the patterns and ethnic motifs of the designs symbolizes the uniqueness of the strength of identity of the people of Sarawak.
Batik is part of the craft industry. If factories are producing hundreds of metres of it a day, then that is not authentic batik, even if the design and motif are copied using digital print and resemble the original. It does not make it a Sarawak handicraft.
Their role at Kraf Sarawak is to figure out how to attract batik producers and the public to use batik in their daily lives. They come up with products that appeal to their times and study current fashion so that they can meet the demands.
The batik sarong may not be as popular anymore, because now the focus is more on clothing items for men and women, pareo skirts and products such as bags and tablecloths.
Kraf Sarawak Design Unit head Tony Rantai anak Roti said that in terms of design they were required to conduct detailed research on traditional handicraft to ascertain its authenticity prior to introducing new designs.
Design ideas could be adapted from the art produced by the various ethnicities in Sarawak, or what could be observed from their daily lives. Inspiration could come from the design of the 'parang ilang' (sword), terabai (fighting shield), ketapu tunjang (headgear), pua kumbu (an intricate hand-woven textile), sape (musical instrument), rattan bags, reed mats, plants or animals.
According to Tony, the motifs are first adapted into an experimental batik design before being turned into a pattern that matches the preference of batik enthusiasts.
Each new design, prototype, order or promotional invitation sent to Kraf Sarawak would be extended to its incubator programme participants at Jalan Stadium, here. At the moment, two of them are producing batik under the textile category while three participants work with jungle harvests to produce handicrafts, souvenirs and bags.
Tony called on fans of authentic Sarawak batik to visit the Kraf Sarawak exhibition gallery at Jalan Stadium, which is open to the public Mondays to Fridays from 8am to 5pm.
Visitors to Kraf Sarawak can also get their batik made into clothes within a short period of time through the centre's collaboration with a local tailor.
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