You can’t travel in Indonesia without seeing it. A fabric that has made its way through time, Batik is a testimony of the rich and diverse cultural universe of Java, Indonesia’s central island and epicenter of art and history in the archipelago. Although you can find Batik in other countries such as Nigeria, Togo, China, India, Mauritius, Madagascar or Sri Lanka, it is in the island of Java that the finest pieces and techniques can be found. Specialists can’t decide whether the technique of Batik is originally from Java or if it was brought there from Egypt and the Middle East, but they all agree that you can find in Indonesia the greatest collections, an unmatchable panel of styles and patterns.
We offer to bring you to the best Batik places in Indonesia to discover this supreme art that has become a local tradition and a national pride.
Fine and detailed penciled-in patterns, succession of wax applications and dye baths, create this unique piece used by Indonesians from the market to the temple, as a sarong or a decoration on the wall. It is this process of creation involving several levels of details that makes traditional Batik truly unique. In all Indonesia, you will be able to see and buy sarongs, clothes, and handicraft products featuring Batik, but only in Java Island will you really learn about this art and witness its use in the daily life of the people.
There are two techniques used to apply wax during the process of making a traditional Batik. Using a tool called “canting” is the finest way as it allows the artist to follow his drawing handy. The result is called “Batik Tulis” (literally “Batik written”). The other technique, more recent (19th century), is called “Batik Cap” (literally “Batik stamp”) and requires using a stamp to create and repeat the patterns. Sometimes the two methods are combined during the process of creation. In any case, the principle remains the same: using wax to protect some parts of the material while dying it, then removing it to cover other parts, and repeating this process again and again until the final design is achieved.
Although it is impossible to catalogue the huge variety of Batik that exists in Indonesia, focusing on Java reveals two main groups: one is traditionally linked to the courts of Yogyakarta and Solo, while the other reflects the foreign influences on the north coast.
Famous for being the center of Javanese artistic and spiritual activities, Yogyakarta is the right place to meet the people involved in the production of Batik. It is a city where the doors are always open for foreigners to enter and witness the daily routine and traditions and it shouldn’t be too difficult for you to sneak into one of the several workshops where Batiks are being made. If you’re looking to learn the basics of Batik Painting you can follow a 2 Hours Batik Painting & Language Class and if you like the result of your work you can even come back and pick it up two days later! We also encourage you to visit the workshop of our friend Pak Seno near Prawirotaman Street and try his private Batik Course, but if you prefer immersing yourself in a sea of Batik shops, the busy Malioboro Street is waiting for you right in the center of the city.
Just as important is the city of Surakarta, most commonly named Solo. Although they feature their own patterns and style, easily recognizable by their chocolate brown and pale yellow colors, Batik from Solo have a very similar sacred meaning and function with the ones in Yogyakarta as the two sultanates share the same relationship with their respective ruling line of sovereigns. Surakarta is also home of the biggest Batik market in the world called Pasar Klewer -an ideal place for travelers looking to buy their own piece- and of the great Museum Batik Danar Hadi and its impressive collections.
Styles and colors are different in the north of Java as the northern coast -called “Pesisir” by Javanese people- has been for centuries the main gateway for foreign cultures in the Island. Therefore it’s no wonder that Chinese, Persian, Arabic or Indian arts have influenced Batik in those regions.
Located on the north coast of West Java, the city of Cirebon is an example of this amazing diversity with a style of Batik that features vivid colors and patterns. It’s in a village called Trusmi, the center of Batik production in the region located 5 kilometers from Cirebon, that you will find the main artists and the shops selling their creations. The village gave its name to the local style of production: Batik Trusmi.
Popular in all of West Java, Batik Trusmi can be found in the fast-growing industrial city of Bandung, home of the famous Batik Komar workshop and showroom. The place, created in 1988, is showcasing Batik Trusmi as well as those from other regions. Runned by Komarudin Kudiya, an artist creating modern Batik involving traditional patterns and new themes, it gives the opportunity for visitors to follow a Batik Workshop 5 Days Course and bring home their own creations.
Heading east on the north coast you will find the city of Pekalongan with its Batik museum and Batik Week Festival held in the city every year. It is the opportunity for all the Batik artists from the northern Central Java region to gather and showcase their production as the city is surrounded by numerous workshops. Situated further east on the Pesisir, the small town of Lasem is interesting as it presents a unique mix of Javanese and Chinese cultures that reflects into the design of its Batik.
Travelers in Indonesia will find plenty of other Batik production center along the way. Madura Island is known for its Batik uniquely crafted by women. Influenced by merchants from Java, Sundanese and Minangkabau people in Sumatra have also created their own style. In East Java, the region of Trenggalek hosts some incredibly talented designers. In the village of Majan, near Tulungagung, a young woman has decided to re-activate the once-vibrant local production of Batik and has gathered home-grown talents to create a new brand called Yunar Batik. The result is a classy mix of tradition and modernity. In the eastern tip of Java, Banyuwangi is also famous for its Batik and organize yearly a festival to promote the local production. Even if you are only staying in Bali for holidays you will still have access to the culture of Batik and experience the process of creation by attending a class in a Balinese Batik Painting Workshop In Ubud. There you will be able to create your own piece and learn from an experienced teacher.
An integral part of Indonesia’s culture, Batik is a central piece of the country’s artistic patrimony. Famous around the world, it demonstrates the ancestral knowledge of Javanese artists and speaks to the history of their Crossroad Island. The experience of Batik involves your senses and is certainly one of the most accessible in Indonesia, so do not skip it.