There is some confusion on what and how Malaysian batik differs with other Asian countries batik originalities. While Asian people migrate and move around easily between Asian countries since 1,000 years ago or earlier (Malaya or Kedah is known to have existed for more than 6,000 years) they brought their own cultures, traditions and arts to the new places and blended with local systems. As a result, batik Malaysia becomes more vibrant and unique plus the current more innovative and creative artists or batik painters who always or constantly searched for more ideas to make batik Malaysia more appealing to the buyers especially international tourists.
Let’s begin with some history and then current developments with some examples.
Batik is a famous handcraft and artworks in Malaysia for the creativity and innovations that translate the lives around human onto pieces of cloths. The discoveries of new batik making methods traditionally have begun since 15th century. In the early period, Malay communities have used potatoes and other indigenous equipments as ‘block’ to design the batik paintings. Nowadays, modern technologies are used everywhere for massive production. In the Malay world, a batik called “Batik Pelangi” had been introduced since 1770s. Nowadays, many batik factories and home-made crafts are found in almost all states in Malaysia such as Langkawi, Kedah, Penang, Kelantan and Terengganu. (1)
Malaysian Batik is batik textile art of Malaysia existing in almost all states in Malaysia. The most popular motifs used by batik artists or painters include leaves, flowers and abstracts. Malaysian batik is mostly large floral motifs, light and vibrant in colouring. Malaysian batik depicting humans or animals are rare because Islamic practices forbid animal images and other pictures which are against sharia as decoration. However, the butterfly theme is a common exception. The Malaysian batik is also famous for its geometrical designs such as spirals. The method of Malaysian batik making is also quite different from those of Indonesian batik. (2)
Batik was mentioned in the 17th century Malay Annals. The legend goes when Laksamana Hang Nadim was ordered by Sultan Mahmud to sail to India to get 140 pieces of serasah cloth (batik) with 40 types of flowers depicted on each. Unable to find any that fulfilled the requirements explained to him, he made up his own. On his return unfortunately, his ship sank and he only managed to bring four pieces, earning displeasure from the Sultan. For men, Batik can be worn at dinner functions. Even the ladies wear the fabric as formal dress, combining batik with modern fashion. The Malaysian government encourages civil servants to wear batik during the 1st and 15th day of the month. (2)
Motif is the decorative patterns used in the drawings and paintings of the batik. Motifs designs are developed into two main themes such as Motif Organik (organic) and Motif Geometrik (geometric). Motif Organik is based on the world nature such as awan larat (abstract), plants, flowers and animals. (1)
Batik cap (pronounced ‘chop)
Batik by cap (pronounced "chop") or blok (block) is a rapidly vanishing craft. It is produced entirely by hand in small family-owned "factories" in the state of Terengganu on the east coast of Malaysia.
Both the rapid industrialisation of the 1990s and economic crisis at the end of that decade have contributed to the decline in batik production. Silk-screen printing of batik motifs is faster and cheaper and it is considered more progressive. (3)
Batik is a resist process employing wax and dye. The cap (pronounced "chop") method uses copper or zinc blocks dipped in melted wax and stamped onto two-meter lengths of white cotton. The cloth is repeatedly dyed and stampled with wax until the finishing step when the wax is boiled out of the cloth. It is hung to dry on a clothesline and then folded for sale in the market. (3)
So, for tourists and batik lovers, you can get your dream batiks at any shops in Malaysia or you can visit any factory or home-made batik to order the self-made designs that you choose.