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The Batik connection

The story goes that batik originated on the Coromandel coast before finding its way to Indonesia. Here the art was perfected and then brought back to India by Rabindranath Tagore. This twisted journey is the topic of discussion at the seminar ‘Batik Sutra Tagore, Travels and Textiles’ on November 11 at Rabindranath Tagore Centre, ICCR.

Organised by Sutra in association with ICCR, the ministry of culture, Victoria and Albert Museum London, and the Indian Museum, the programme includes a 15-day exhibition of collectors’ pieces of batik textile.

“The name batik originated in Indonesia. The people of the Coromandel coast called it by other names,” says Bessie Cecil, a textile conservator and research scholar from Chennai who is curating the exhibition.

Cecil has brought in a range of designs from the Kain Panjang or puppet motif hip cloth “worn only by the wise people of Indonesia” to “forbidden designs” like tambal (triangular shapes) or kawang (wing motifs) that were worn only by the Indonesian royal family.

The struggle for Indian Independence and use of synthetic dyes wiped out resist-dyeing (batik is a form of resist-dyeing) on the Coromandel coast but it travelled back to India when an artist accompanying Tagore on his visit to Indonesia saw how it was done. The tools were different, though.

In Santiniketan, a batik artist uses a brush to put on the wax (the signature pattern being the crack); in Indonesia, it is a little pot with a tiny spout that almost works like a pen. On the Coromandel coast, it was again a different apparatus.

A section of the exhibition is dedicated to contemporary batik, made popular by designer labels like Dev R Nil and Rare, among others. “It is the personal factor of batik and its imperfections that make it so appealing to us,” say Dev and Nil, whose last four collections have featured batik.

If all this has piqued your interest in batik, stroll down the Grand Bazaar at the same venue from November 11 to 15 where Sutra will display its collection. The bazaar features textiles, accessories and handicrafts from Karomi, Kashmir Loom Company, NCVI Bangladesh, Malkha Fabrics, Mallika’s Kantha Collection, Sujata’s Weaves and Prints, Weavers Studio, Rehwa Society, Badshah Miyan, Kanishka Sarees, Mura (featuring shibori work of Japan), Naturally Anuradha, Sampa’s Boutique and Pause.

“This year we wanted to do something with Tagore since it is his 150th birth anniversary. Sutra is about textiles, hence we chose batik because of its Tagore connection,” says Swati Nandi, programme director.

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