Batik from the Indonesian island of Java will be featured in Fabric of Enchantment: Batik from the North Coast of
Java from the Inger McCabe Elliott Collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, on view at the Cleveland
Museum of Art (CMA) Dec. 17, 2000–Feb. 11, 2001. More than 80 elaborately colored textile masterpieces from the
mid-1800s through the mid-1900s will be displayed in the show, including sarungs, hip wrappers, and other
garments and decorative pieces. The show is organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
These cloths not only are tours de force in technical achievement, but also are incredibly beautiful symbols of status,
notes Louise W. Mackie, CMA’s curator of textiles and Islamic art. It is a great pleasure to bring these works of art to
North coast Javanese batik is a melding of international artistic styles. A thriving trade with China, India, and the
countries of the Mediterranean area, along with Dutch colonial influences, led to the intermarriage of foreigners with
Indonesia’s native peoples. Indo-Chinese, Indo-Arabians, and Indo-Europeans all inhabited the north coast of Java
from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century.
The colorful textiles in this show feature floral sprays, birds, plants, and geometric shapes. Their range of pastel and
jewel tones is unique to the north coast region — and strikingly different from central Javanese batiks, which feature
blue, brown, and white linear patterns used by native Indonesians. North coast designs were adapted from local flora
and fauna, Indian textiles, Chinese textiles and ceramics, European magazines, Arabic calligraphy, and symbols of
colonial Dutch power.
Batiks are communication art, in that a hip wrapper or sarung reveal cultural identity, age, religion, and status —
economic, social, and marital — for both women and men. Batiks were part of a bride’s dowry and were worn at her
wedding, and could be used to adorn the nuptial chambers.
Examples of Indo-European hip wrappers in the show (cat. nos. 17, about 1850, and 22, about 1900) feature the fine
detail and elegant floral and animal imagery that would appeal to a lady of highest society. A red Indo-Chinese
altar cloth (cat. no. 79, about 1910–20) depicts mythical figures, a large dragon flanked by a tiger and leopard, and
mortals above. An Indo-Arabian hip wrapper (cat. no. 36, about 1920–30) tells the story of the Dutch conquest of the
Indonesian island of Lombok in 1894.
Each high-quality batik may take several months to complete. Frequently they were designed by women, often Dutch.
Batik is created by applying molten wax to selected areas of a textile to prevent the absorption of dyes. In Java, batik
makers use a canting, or wax pen (a copper container with a spout), to apply the wax to both sides of a cotton or silk
cloth, making it reversible. For each color used, specific areas of the cloth must be covered with wax and then
uncovered by boiling it off. Women typically apply the wax, while men prepare the cloth and dye it. As a final
luxurious touch, gold leaf was sometimes added.
Detail of a Javanese cotton sarung
from about 1850
(Los Angeles County Museum of Art,
Inger McCabe Elliott Collection)