Definition of Malaysian Batik needs to be refined to enhance its status

 

Malaysian Batik (Nazir Amin)

Malaysian Batik (By Nazir Amin)

Kuala Lumpur: The definition of Malaysian batik as outlined in the Malaysian Handicraft Development Corporation Act 1979 has to be refined further to accord more significance to this traditional textile art and elevate the status of the batik industry.

Its current definition, according to Yayasan Budi Penyayang Malaysia (Penyayang) chief executive officer Leela Mohd Ali, does not do justice to the heritage value of authentic Malaysian batik.

Under the Act, batik is listed as a handicraft product and it includes “any article, however produced, which bears a batik design on or at any part thereof”.

“I see a slight flaw in the definition of batik in the Act. If possible, batik must be redefined or its definition should be refined further in order to give more significance to the value of batik as a traditional heritage (of our country),” said Leela, who is also Malaysian Batik Association president.

She said as per the current definition any product featuring a batik design is deemed as batik regardless of how it was produced.

“Some products have batik patterns that are all machine-printed or produced using other modern techniques. Is it fair for these to be labelled as batik products?” she asked.

Authentic Malaysian batik, on the other hand, involves a more painstaking production process as it is made using the dye and wax resist technique, explained Leela. The patterns are either hand-drawn on the fabric using the ‘canting’ (a pen-like copper tool) or block printed.

A review of the definition of batik in the Malaysian Handicraft Development Corporation Act is, therefore, necessary to prevent machine-printed inferior quality batik from being passed off as authentic batik and sold at high prices.

PRICEY

Commenting on complaints that Malaysian batik is more expensive than those produced in Indonesia, India, China, Vietnam and other countries, Leela said the price of Malaysian batik is determined by several factors such as the type of fabric used, design, production technique and expertise of the batik maker/designer.

“Expensive and heavy fabrics like silk or crepe that feature authentic batik designs certainly fetch higher prices.

“And, when high-quality fabrics are used, the quality of dyes used has to be good too,” she said.

Despite the sentiments regarding the prices of local batik, Leela said the Malaysian batik industry has seen positive growth largely due to the support of the public, including Cabinet ministers and celebrities, regardless of their race.

Penyayang has been involved in efforts to reinforce batik as an inherent part of the Malaysian identity and ensure the growth and progress of the local batik industry ever since it established the Malaysia Batik — Crafted For The World Movement in 2003 under the patronage of the late Tun Endon Mahmood, the wife of the fifth Prime Minister of Malaysia Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

EVOLVED

Malaysian batik, meanwhile, has also evolved over the years, with the designs becoming more creative and produced in many variations.

Penyayang, explained Leela, encourages the use of stamping blocks — made of wood, copper or aluminium that are carved with specific patterns and motifs cast in relief (whereby the design stands out from the surface) — to transfer the desired pattern onto the fabric.

“This technique is faster and yields more batik products (in a shorter time). The quality of the batik is good and it is sold at a lower price compared with batik produced using the ‘canting’ technique,” she said, adding that the stamping block method can also, indirectly, revive the people’s interest in batik.

She lamented, however, that many of the skilled artisans who made the blocks have either retired from the industry or died.

“How can we produce beautiful and high-quality batik when we don’t have people with the skill to make those blocks?” she asked.

Leela expressed her disappointment that many of the batik stamping blocks left behind by the old artisans were now merely exhibited at their workshops while some have been sold as home decor pieces.

“Sadly, these crafts are just left lying around as though they have no value at all,” she said.

Describing it as a great loss, she said batik crafts should be managed properly and accorded intellectual property (IP) rights.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

Leela called for clearer guidelines on IP with regard to batik works, adding that this would ensure that all original works produced by the batik industry are protected and not copied or misused or altered by irresponsible parties.

She said the making of certain crafts like stamping block required the skills of an artist to draw the pattern and the expertise of another person to make the block.

“In such a case, between the artist and the block maker, who is entitled to the IP rights? These days, even computers are being used to create patterns and improve existing batik designs,” she pointed out.

Hoping that the Malaysian Handicraft Development Corporation (Kraftangan Malaysia) would look into the IP issue, Leela said for each and every batik craft produced, details pertaining to the design, as well as the owner’s name and date of production should be recorded to preserve the identity of the craft and creator.

“This is the way to uphold the heritage value of our Malaysian batik,” she added.

Batik produced in Malaysia is at risk of losing its identity if local designers fail to register their designs with Intellectual Property Corporation of Malaysia (MyIPO).

Only by registering their works with MyIPO can the sale of imitation batik products, which is becoming more rampant now, be curbed. It will also enable the patent owners to take legal action against those who sell, produce or lease their designs without permission.

YOUTH INVOLVEMENT

Leela also said that youths should be given early exposure to the batik industry in order to produce more young designers who are talented and skilled.

“We’ve to educate our children a little on batik, even the preschoolers who, for example, can be made to wear batik uniform and thus, get introduced to batik at an early age,” she said.

Leela also claimed that among the youths pursuing courses in batik art at various skills training centres were some who took it easy or were there merely for the allowance that they received.

“Once they complete their course, we don’t know where they go to work. They are not interested in batik production most probably because they find it tedious and mundane,” she said, adding that in order to attract youths, Kraftangan Malaysia should reintroduce the batik apprenticeship training programme and set up training centres in the various states to teach them skills to make batik crafts.

COMPETITION

Penyayang, meanwhile, organises the annual Piala Seri Endon Batik Design Competition to unearth new talents and encourage Malaysian designers to create innovative batik designs.

“Through this competition, introduced in 2003, we have seen many changes and improvements in our batik creations. Our batik creators are becoming more adept at using a combination of motifs instead of just limiting their works to flora- and fauna-based designs,” she said, adding that the competition has been receiving an encouraging response, especially from young designers who come up with new and fresh ideas.

The 2019 Piala Seri Endon Batik Design Competition is scheduled to take place in September.

According to Leela, about 30 past winners of various categories of the Piala Seri Endon contest have succeeded in creating their own batik brands and taking their careers to greater heights.

On Seri Endon Studio located at Wisma Penyayang in Seri Kembangan, Selangor, which houses batik apparel and craft collections, Leela hoped it would grow into a bigger “umbrella” to promote and retail the works of local designers.

She also encouraged Malaysians to wear batik on Aug 31 in conjunction with the National Day celebrations to reflect their patriotic spirit.

“Batik can be a symbol of patriotism but it’s important for us to be able to recognise Malaysian batik and spot the differences between our batik and that of other nations. We too now have beautiful batik featuring attractive designs.

“Now only civil servants are encouraged to wear batik on Thursdays. It will be nice if private-sector employees are also encouraged to wear batik,” she said.

She added that wearing batik in conjunction with National Day would help to revive the glory of Malaysian batik as a national heritage, as well as show off the tradition to the world community.

BERNAMA

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