Post D: Batik’s Battle against Modernisation

Usually when we think of traditional Indonesian fashion, we think of colour…and lots of it. With over 300 ethnic groups present in Indonesia, each one has their own regional costume that is unique to them. However, due to the pressures of fast modernization, are the ancient methods of textile production such as balik being lost?

Batik is the oldest form of textile decoration present in Indonesia, which uses a dyeing process where “melted wax is applied on the cloth with a special pen called ‘canting” (Haake 1989). This would reserve the white areas of the cloth, which is then removed post boiling. Thus, the repetition of this technique would lead to beautiful patterns and vibrant colours.

The batik is very significant in Indonesian culture and history, where it has both a local and international role. Locally, batik is a representation of their identity and cultural heritage, which is used in a range of different areas including religious and ceremonial rituals, to more domestic areas such as indoor furnishings and decorations. Internationally, Evi Steelyana W believes that, “The role of batik in international diplomacy…gives significant meaning for batik as a commodity which preserve Indonesian culture.” (Steelyana W 2012) Teruo Sekimoto also supports this notion, as “In the fields of textiles and fashion design, batik has an international reputation” (Sekimoto 2003)


However, in contemporary society, traditional Batik production is now facing the influence of rapid globalization of Indonesia. Especially in Java, “batik making is deeply rooted in the history of Java and Indonesia” (Sekimoto 2003) There is now a dichotomy between economic and cultural practices of this technique which has been increasingly modernized due to foreign European and Asian influences, including the imports of different cotton, chemical dyes replacing traditional dyes as well a decline of skilled batik artisans and shortage of buying power (Hitchcock & Nuryanti 2016) As such, the batik industry has suffered a huge blow, namely due to the screen printing industry, which does not involve the traditional wax-resistant dye. Although this didn’t have much influence at first, the print industry developed so rapidly that it was difficult to decipher the difference between a printed batik and a wax-dyed one. Traditional batik makers also took a toll from huge mass production firms. Thus, Sekimoto believes that “the golden age of batik lies in ancient times and every change the modern era has brought to batik has been negative: modernity always means the decay of tradition” yet ironically, it is due to this decay that we have developed such a traditionalist view to it. After all, it seems that modernity has allowed batik making to survive into a “modern industry representing Indonesian tradition” (Sekimoto 2003) without being completely lost in its battle against globalization.

Presence of traditional batik artisans in 1950 on the island of Java (Jin, M. 2017)
Presence of traditional batik artisans in 1980 on the island of Java (Jin, M. 2017)




  • Cohn, F. L. 2014, Traditional ‘canting’ technique, From Bali to Bala, viewed 7 December 2017 <>
  • Expat Web Site Association Jakarta. 2017, Batik, the Traditional Fabric of Indonesia, viewed 7 December 2017, <>.
  • Haake, A. 1989, ‘The role of symmetry in Javanese batik patterns‘, Computers & Mathematics with Applications, vol. 17, no. 4-6, pp. 815-826.
  • Hitchcock, M & Nuryanti, W. 2016, Building on Batik: The Globalization of a Craft Community, Routledge, UK.
  • Oxford Business Group. 2017, Modern role for Batik in Indonesia, viewed 7 December 2017, <>.
  • Sekimoto, T. 2003, ‘Batik as a Commodity and a Cultural Object’ in Yamashita, S & Seymour Eades, J (ed.), Globalization in Southeast Asia: Local, National, and Transnational Perspectives, Berghahn Books, United States.
  • Steelyana W, Evi. 2012, ‘Batik, a Beautiful Cultural Heritage that Preserve Culture and Support Economic Development in Indonesia’, Binus Business Review, vol. 3, no.1, pp. 116.
  • Strand of Silk. n.d, Screen printed batik, Strand of Silk, viewed 7 December 2017 <>.

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