Rebuilding an Economy

Nani's Indonesian Batik

Imagine a village filled with brightly intricate batik cloth where each piece is lovingly and skillfully hand-drawn, hand-colored, and worked with a special tool to distribute the wax, and now you an idea of how Nani Norchayati Lestari spends her days.

The village where Nani lives is known as Bantul City, located in Yogyakarta, a small region of Indonesia noted for its Javanese fine arts, art of batik, and culture.

“Most of us learned to make batik from our parents, especially our mothers and grandmothers,” Nani said. “We not only learned the technique, but we were also taught about the philosophy of each pattern or motif.”

Nani explained that when she was a young girl she practiced the art and skill of batik on her veranda after school. “It takes several years to learn all the skills and processes. Now, I combine both traditional and modern techniques, always searching for new, natural sources to get a better result,” she said.

For the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, Nani chose to bring traditional items, including the jarik (a hand-drawn stamp) and shawl. She explained, “We use special tools and techniques when making batik. There are cotton and silk fabrics, waxes, natural sources for color made from plant roots and leaves, wood, fruits and salt."

Nani first uses a bamboo frame to hang the fabric while she draws the design. A varied selection of tools and natural roots are employed to block out a design. To help set the colors, tawas (a chemical powder with a numerous uses in Indonesia) is used to lock in the colors.

Each artist knows all the necessary steps to create a batik design and is able to do them all. At Berkah Lestari, the cooperative where Nani is employed, all of the artists work together as a collaborative team.

Berkah Lestari was formed following the earthquake in 2004, when batik makers began to work together to rebuild their economy. One of the co-op’s early creations was a 1.2 kilometer batik cloth, which currently holds a national record at the Indonesian Records Museum.

Nani explained that making batik is the largest source of income for her family, in addition to farming. “My mother learned the skill and techniques from my grandmother, and she has more than 30 years worth of experience working with batik. She taught me all the aspects of batik, from cutting fabric to drawing, coloring, and selling."

Nani joined Berkah Lestari, where all of the members are women. In addition to batik, they are taught organization, management, and Fair Trade, where the artist receives a fair share for the work she does.

Nani adds that in her village people wear batik for their daily activities. For events, such as a wedding, the batik outfit also includes the wearing of special headdresses and the keris—a ceremonial dagger with a distinctive wavy blade. A number of Javanese believe these knives hold special spiritual powers and that some blades possess good luck.

The keris is made in a nearby village now known as a “Handicrafts Paradise”— an area that even a massive earthquake couldn’t destroy.

Come see Nani at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, July 9 - 12.  It is a MUST ATTEND event for anyone interested in global folk art.  See for more.



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