Shawl, selendang (shoulder cloth), handwoven silk with alternate weave and embroidery, batik, Bin House, Java (possibly Cirebon), Indonesia, 2001
Bin House is a batik design house established by Josephine Komara and Yusman Siswandi, first in Jakarta in about 1978 and more recently with shops, offices and exhibition spaces in Indonesia, Singapore, particularly Japan and also the Netherlands. Using traditional design and a cottage-industry approach, it caters to an exclusive and lucrative domestic and tourist market, particularly Japanese customers. It aims to use traditional designs and reinvigorate them.
Batik is a method of dyeing fabric which uses a resist technique (using wax to cover some areas of fabric while other areas are left open to the dye). This technique has become closely associated with Java, although its origins are obscure. It is said to have come to south-east Asia via India in about 100AD. There is also evidence that it came from China.
Java was a cultural melting pot, over the centuries absorbing Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic and Dutch influences and pressures. Additionally, Java became a commercial hub, from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when European explorers and traders entered the area. From being a product of village women, to being a pursuit of court ladies from the old royal palace towns in Yogyakarta, Surakarta and Cirebon, batik developed over time. Javanese batik traditionally operated under strict rules of design and use, although designs were numerous. While different areas of Java favoured particular designs, and are known for them, they also used motifs in different ways, with different meanings. The production of batik was encouraged by demand. From the late eighteenth century, batik formed an important part of foreign trade. It fed the European enthusiasm for batik, encouraged by Indo-European women and reached its zenith at the turn of the twentieth century.
The kain panjang is a rectangular cloth generally two and a half metres long by one metre wide. It is for both sexes and was traditionally worn on formal occasions. The selendang is a shawl for women.
Documentation which accompanied these batiks described their design as 'Traditional cloth-set of motifs from the coastal area combined with the traditional "Tambal" (patchwork) motif.' These batiks were produced for commercial consumption, by a successful modern business, drawing on but not reproducing early traditional batiks. Elements of early batik design are present in these batiks. For instance, they both have tambal or Javanese patchwork batik. The tambal motif had its origins in India. In coastal Java, the tambal motif was used in a purely decorative way, whereas in central areas, the arrangement and shape of the patches were imbued with spiritual significance (luck, fertility etc.). Another motif is the tumpal, rows of triangles, in this case at the ends of the textile.
According to custom, the colours of these batik pieces correspond to the period of life between maturity and old age (yellow and green) and the light blue between death and birth. Blue was also a colour for women.
These pieces are good examples of traditional textile skills being used in an international fashion context. They reinterpret traditional batik for the tourist and home market, producing luxurious products that are wearable and fashionable. The Powerhouse Museum holds a considerable collection of batiks. These textiles are the first batiks from Bin House to enter the collection and therefore keep the collection of batiks current and vital.
These pieces were donated to the Powerhouse Museum, by Josephine Komara through the offices of Robyn Maxwell, currently Senior curator, Asian Art, at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra and Senior lecturer in art history at the Australian National University. Negotiations about commissioning some Batik clothing from Bin House had been suggested earlier than this, but nothing eventuated. In an email dated 16 January 2002 from Robyn Maxwell to Melanie Eastburn at the Powerhouse Museum, Robyn Maxwell writes: 'Perhaps a year, maybe more, ago one of them visited Bin House, one of Indonesia's leading textile design companies - small but very innovative in terms of weaving and dyeing, revivals of and rethinking uses of lost or very old techniques ... When I was in Jakarta before Christmas and called in, Bin and Ronnie were very keen to fulfil a promise Bin had made to give one of her textiles to the Powerhouse Museum ... had to sit around for hours drinking the best lemon tea I have ever had and looking through possible gifts from the current range. You can imagine how difficult that was - in their beautiful antique filled air conditioned old house cum showroom! We decided on one which combines techniques in a youthful sort of style.'
More research is needed for this acquisition, before it can be completed. Attempts to contact both Bin House and Robyn Maxwell for more information have proved unsuccessful. (These can be found in the file.)