Post A: How is art able to continue cultural tradition?

Batik is “a technique of wax-resist dyeing applied to whole cloth, or cloth made using this technique.” (Wikipedia 2015) It is an art form that has been shared by cultures around the globe. By focusing on the presence of Batik in Indonesian and Indigenous Australian cultures it becomes evident that it is a definite means through which cultural and societal values are disseminated. A study of the art form in these contexts highlights the notion that design is shaped by local context. Furthermore, I will aim to address what batik designs are able to do in the way of continuing cultural tradition and folklore.

Beginning with the baby being carried in a batik sling to the grandfather being buried, wrapped in batik cloth, and even those in “the highest diplomatic circles” (Achjadi 1999). Batik “transcends all boundaries as the most egalitarian form of clothing in Indonesia today” (Achjadi 1999).  Inside Indonesia Batik designs reflect the designer’s physical environment. Additionally, “the designs were formally employed to remind users and viewers of the deeper meaning of life and include religious and moral values.” (Achjadi 1999)

This idea is synonymous with art within the Indigenous Australian community. Indigenous Australian art is a means by which to communicate, tell stories and convey traditional values, always using motifs from the natural world. Indigenous art aims to depict “nature like animals or lakes and of course, the Dreamtime.” (Kaus 2004) This commonality with Indonesian culture meant that when Pitjantjatjara artists from the small South Australian town, Ernabella, were introduced to Batik in the 1970’s, they excelled at it; in a very unique way.

Ernabella batik is heavily laden with flowing designs, very different from the geometric Indonesian (especially coastal Indonesian) designs. The Pitjantjatjara are influenced by their Dreamtime stories and draw inspiration from in what in their native language is called, Walka. “Walka draws on enormous visual resources… the entire physical and metaphysical environment of the Anangu-Pitjantjatjara world.” (Kaus 2004)

Batik in the contexts of Indonesian and Indigenous Australian cultures highlights how an art form can visually convey metaphysical aspects of one’s life. Through Batik a means by which to continue important cultural tradition is found. Anthropologist Ute Eickelkamp states, “to make great art generates integrative social and cultural forces without forcing the participants to abandon their individual and local identities”. (Eickelkamp 1998) Batik in its relative contexts, not only reflects Indonesian and Indigenous Australian folklore, traditions and values, but keeps them alive.

ernabella art

Example of Indigenous Australian batik. (Adamson 1998)

4x5 original

Example of traditional batik from Java. (Inger McCabe Elliott Collection 1880)


Achjadi, J. 1999, Batik: Spirit of Indonesia, trans. Dr. Woro Aryandini, Yayasan Batik Indonesia, Jakarta.

Kaus, D. 2004, Ernabella batiks, National Museum of Australia Press, Canberra.

Wikipedia 2015, Batik, Wikipedia, United States, viewed April 12 2015, <>.

Eickelkamp, U. 1998, ‘”Drawing” the story together. An anthropologist’s leaning of Ernabella women’s art’, Exquisite Labours: The Life’s Work of Nyukana (Daisy) Baker, Art Monthly Australia, Sydney, pp. 45-8.

Adamson, I. 1998, Raiki wara, Ernabella arts, Ernabella.

Inger McCabe Elliott Collection 1880, Sarung Bang Biru Hijau, Java.

4 thoughts on “Post A: How is art able to continue cultural tradition?

  1. Theres a really great demonstration and communication of understanding on the link that batik places on culture and tradition within Indonesian and Indigenous Australian societies. Its interesting to read the history of batik and its previous significance, hopefully through studying in Indonesia we will be able to explore the differences in use of traditional techniques as opposed to modern ones to produce these textiles.

  2. Good read Sean kept me interested the whole way through, helped relating it to the indigenous Australians art

  3. Interesting observation about how pervasive Batik is, from birth to death, low social circles to upper class. When you view it as way of conveying traditional motifs and values it becomes apparent how important the craft is. Not many art forms can convey values like this through such a wide audience.

  4. An interesting link between a shared textile art across two cultures. Also interesting to note that whilst both countries experienced european colonisation, Indonesian art, both contemporary and traditional was a direct reaction to the political situation at the time. It would be interesting to research indigenous australian art had reacted in a similar way. Traditional and contemporary art on both sides has faced issues of recognition from international and fine art institutions at different points in time.

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