Batik is arguably one of the oldest forms of textile-based art, the intricate and complicated process allowing for thoughtful and carefully crafted designs. For those who don’t know, batik is a process of wax-resist dying in which melted wax is applied to a piece of fabric, that fabric is then dyed and the sections of fabric coated in wax remain their original colour. Patience is a necessity in producing a batik as the process often needs to be repeated many times in order to create detailed, delicate pieces. Although complicated and time-consuming, the repetitive method has a therapeutic and immersive quality as one has to be focussed at all times in order to avoid making any mistakes; one drop of spilt wax can ruin a whole design. There is also an element of mystery present in batik work as the true appearance of the design can only be seen once all of the wax has been melted away. The cracks and breaks that are created in the wax as the material is manipulated also add to the surprise element of the process as they allow the dye to seep through and create spontaneous, mosaic-like patterns across the material.
Catalina Espina, an artist from Santiago, Chile, uses batik in order to represent the ancestry and power of Chilean women and her use of bright colours in her piece Dos Violetas emphasises the vibrancy and character of the culture. Espina’s motivation for using batik is not simply to, as she states, “rescue the ancestral,” but also to challenge the mainstream and mechanical aspects of mass art production. She argues, “I bet for a natural beauty. I am against hyper-technologization, artificial manipulation, mass production and of what undermines human individuality” and batik allows her to avoid such artificial methods and to produce entirely unique and personal designs. Methods such as printing, embroidery and weaving have all been mechanised and technology is beginning to eradicate the human, hands-on qualities that these practices were once known for. When an artist creates a work, they leave behind a trace of themselves, a brush stroke or a stitch is a remnant of human touch, yet mechanical processes leave a feeling of distance and insignificance, any sense of individuality disappears. Batik, unlike these other textile practices, is a process that maintains this human element and remains unaffected by the growth of mass production, one has to be fully immersed in the making of a piece.
In Espina’s piece Esas Caras (Those Faces), three faces emerge from between twisted vines and it appears as if the leaves are a part of their bodies. This serves to highlight Espina’s argument that nature and natural processes are fundamental to human life and also emphasises her belief that batik allows this relationship with the natural world and a personal relationship with her work. Having spent 4 years studying and making my own batik pieces at school, I can understand the connection that Espina feels towards her work; so much time and effort is needed in order to create just one piece that a deep connection and relationship becomes inevitable.
You might be thinking, why bother? Why commit so much energy to a process that could so easily go wrong? In truth, batiking isn’t for everyone and I often became impatient and frustrated with the process, yet the beauty and complexity of a finished piece is so rewarding that it makes all of the hours worthwhile.
Written by Amelia Mace
Featured Image – Catalina Espina, The Old Tree.