Singapore’s Asian Civilisations Museum to share Southeast Asian batik heritage in upcoming show

Singapore’s Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) will celebrate the diversity of Southeast Asian heritages with 'Batik Kita: Dressing in Port Cities', its latest special exhibition featuring over 100 masterpieces from overseas and local lenders, as well as rarely seen pieces from the National Collection. te

Opening to the public this Friday, the cloths and clothing items tell stories about making, wearing, and trading batik. Batik Kita explores the rich history and culture of batik and batik making, from its traditional roots to contemporary designs. Visitors are invited to step into an exquisite world of batik textiles that cut across cultures and ethnic backgrounds.

The exhibition also introduces innovations by batikers in the age-old craft, and showcases how batik charted the evolution of new identities in the newly formed nations of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore.

Kennie Ting, Director of ACM and Peranakan Museum, shared, “Visitors can expect an introduction to batik as a historical artform, as well as an exploration of how batik has influenced style in our region, even today. The title, 'Batik Kita' ('Our Batik') celebrates batik as a form of shared cultural heritage in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore, as well as the larger Southeast Asia, with its long-standing textile traditions.” 

Trace the development of batik through design

Batik first emerged as a highly effective way of patterning fabrics in Java during the 17th century, and most batiks today are made and invented from the rich repertoire of patterns developed in the central Javanese courts at Yogyakarta and Surakarta (Solo).

Highlights include three pieces on loan from the Sonobudoyo Museum in Yogyakarta, providing a rare look into traditional batiks used in Cirebon, a court on the coast of western Java.

Besides traditional batik from the Javanese courts, Batik Kita features an extensive range of textiles, including the pagi-sore (day-night) and tiga negeri (three patterns) styles, cloths with seafood and animal motifs, bangbangan (red batiks), and creative designs from Chinese-owned workshops along the pesisir (north coast of Java); as well as the use of canting (hand-drawing) to write calligraphic inscriptions. 

Keeping batik legacies alive

The second section of Batik Kita explores the transformations of batik as fashion, casting a spotlight on batik makers of the past and present. Lining the walls are iron and copper batik stamps made and used by IB Batek Industrial, a Singapore batik making powerhouse of the 1970s and 1980s. 

While the preservation of batik heritage is important, batik as an art form continues to evolve with each generation. A display of contemporary batik garments takes centre stage, comprising 20 loans from BINhouse, a textiles enterprise that is a main arbiter of taste for Indonesian batik fashion. Their shoulder cloths pay homage to southern Sumatran style, made vast enough to cover the wearer’s head and body.

Made by Iwan Tirta, Indonesia's leading batik couturier, this silk batik shirt with an orchid motif was worn by then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong at APEC 1994 in Indonesia.

The power of batik as an expression of identity

The way people choose to adorn themselves goes beyond aesthetics: from wearing batik to show regional solidarity when doing business in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore, to the historic group photoshoot where leaders of the region wore batik at the 1994 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Bogor, Indonesia, batik became an implicit demonstration of soft power on the political stage.

Lee Chor Lin, Exhibition Curator of Batik Kita: Dressing in Port Cities, commented, “A large-scale batik retrospective like this has been a long time coming. Batik is enjoying a renaissance today, and I hope that Batik Kita is just one of many more beautiful batik exhibitions to come in Singapore.” 

Read more Singapore News, Event updates and Entertainment News here