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Batik – brief History

The beauty of batik lies in its simplicity and the fact that one need not be an artist to achieve results. Some of the best effects in batik are often achieved by chance. The history of Indian batik can be traced as far back as 2000 years. Indians were conversant with the resist method of printing designs on cotton fabrics long before any other nation had even tried it. Rice starch and wax were initially used for printing on fabrics. It is believed that after initial popularity of batik in the past, the tedious process of dyeing and waxing caused the decline of batik in India till recent times.

Batik is very often considered a craft like ceramics, pottery or even needlework. Although it is a household word all over the world, it is still overlooked by art critics who do not consider it an art form. There are several countries known for their batik creations, starting with India where it originated. After that it moved to Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the West.

Batik’s true origins are a mystery. The word (pronounced bateek) is translated in many different ways—some sources say it means 'to dot’; some translate it as 'wax writing' or 'drawing with a broken line'. Batik is the art of waxing a surface, usually cloth, to make it resist dyeing, and then removing the wax, re-waxing, re-dyeing and creating intricate patterns and designs. It is a very old form of art, as evidence of early batik has been found all over the Middle East as well as India and Central Asia from about 2000 years ago.

Due to globalization and industrialization, which introduced automated techniques, new breeds of batik, known as batik cap and batik print emerged, and the traditional batik, which incorporates the hand written wax-resist dyeing technique is known now as batik tulis or literally meaning 'Written Batik'.

At the same time, according to the Museum of Cultural History of Oslo, Indonesian immigrants to Malaysia brought the art with them. As late as the 1920s Javanese batik makers introduced the use of wax and copper blocks on Malaysia's east coast. The production of hand drawn batik in Malaysia is related to the Javanese batik tulis.

In Sub Sahara Africa, Javanese batik was introduced in the 19th century by Dutch and English traders. The local people there adapted the Javanese batik, making larger motifs, thicker lines and more colors. In the 1970s, batik was introduced to the aboriginal community in Australia, the aboriginal community at Erna bella and Utopia now develop it as their own craft.