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Finding the Identity of a Place in its Art


Visiting a batik store in Indonesia is a sensory experience – from the beautiful patterns and colours of the artwork to the distinct smell of the batik fabric.

One of the world’s oldest arts forms with evidence of Indonesian Batik found from over 2000 years ago, this historical art form has become so intertwined in the culture of Indonesia that it has kept the trade alive.

While evidence of early examples of batik was found in the Far East, Middle East, Central Asia and India, Indonesian batik is the world’s most well known batik.

Arts and Culture preserve our heritage, give space for expression and have even been shown to reduce crime and other social ills in communities that find dignity and purpose in this heritage. Arts and Culture is a fundamental key to every country’s history and identity.

In a country like Namibia, where we are all too aware of the need to develop and establish our art forms as a critical component of our identity and success as a country, a closer look at the development and establishment of Indonesia’s batik might just hold some clues for us.

An evident example of the importance of protecting the art and culture of a county, Batik is alive today for many reasons but two particularly stand out. One reason is that people in power and leading positions in Indonesia fiercely protected the art form. From the earliest times, royalty were known to be great patrons of the arts and provided the support necessary to develop many art forms.

The second reason is that people reinforced the importance of batik by incorporating the art form in festivals and religious ceremonies and by encouraging men and women to learn and practise this art form as an accomplishment towards a well-rounded life. This sentiment is what originally set in motion the establishment of this art form and what led to batik being one of Indonesia’s most highly developed art forms.

Batik women making

The process of making the batik is slow, focused and meditative. It is a process of applying tiny details and intricacies in design, sitting on a low stool or on a mat. Wax is carefully applied onto a piece of high quality cloth using a device called a canting. Once the design has been drawn out onto the material, the cloth dries against a bamboo frame while the wax hardens. This is where the real fun begins; now the artist uses a tiny flute-like device (the canting) that is dipped in ink, blown to remove any excess ink and then carefully used to slowly trace the outline of the design on the cloth. As traditional methods are used, only one colour at a time is applied to the cloth. Once the artist has traced every corner of the cloth with the dye, the cloth is washed and hung out to dry. Once dry the process starts again, this time with a different colour. First the fabric gets its second coat of wax, which blocks off the areas that will keep their first layer of colour then the second colour is applied to the cloth. This continues until the artist is happy with the pattern and colours. Once completed the cloth gets placed in boiling water to melt the wax off.

batik making 2

The more colourful the piece of material the more processes it has gone through. Here there are no shortcuts and the result is an overwhelmingly beautiful piece of art. Over the years, the patterns have changed but the process stays the same, making this art form rooted deep in history but evolved to represent the current time it finds itself in.

Batik traditional

We as Namibians could learn valuable lessons from this process of entrenching cultural artistic philosophies into our lives as a way of not only defining our identity but also of shaping our future. Whether we uplift an art form steeped in Namibian history or we evolve Namibian art that can be a cornerstone of our culture and the Namibian experience, the key is incorporating it into our everyday lives as Namibians. Not only does this serve our collective artistic expression but it also serves as a draw card for tourists visiting our country that has economic benefits. Now the question is, what is our unique cultural art that expresses who we are within and externally that we should uplift as a show of who we are?

In Indonesia, knowing how to make Batik is part of life for all, seen as a sense of accomplishment and a holistic way of life. What artistic expression of Namibia can we as Namibians, carry forward to the world that demonstrates not only who we are but also all that we have and will be?


MYD’s Manager, Kirsty Watermeyer recently travelled to Indonesia on a media familiarisation trip to bring back to Namibians the stories, treasures and insights of Indonesia. Over the next two weeks the MYD Platform will be uncovering all that is Wonderful Indonesia.


If you want to travel to Indonesia then be sure to take a look at the Wonderful Indonesia Travel website here, where you’ll find information, travel tips and ideas to plan your stay : Wonderful Indonesia