Symbolic Resistance: Tradition in Batik Transitions Sustain Beauty, Cultural Heritage and Status in the Era of Modernity

Stephen Poon


The use of batik as design culture heritage of Kampoeng Laweyan, a village in the Surakarta (Solo) province of Java island, Indonesia, is the case study of this paper. The purpose of research is to understand how batik, from its ancestral place of origin, facilitated the rise of a small community from cycles of economic slumps, while facing the external impacts of globalisation. Even as batik preservation gained UNESCO recognition in 2009, some critics argue that economic development is contrarian to the concept of preservation and sustainability. This paper brings together the numerous cultural, historical and socioeconomic perspectives of Indonesia’s batik status as an intangible heritage. Using phenomenological method of critical inquiry, it traces the development of batik as a traditional cloth of both royalty and rural Indonesian society, a dual symbolic expression of folk wisdom which simultaneously facilitating architectural and social preservation of local communities. Interpretative analysis of batik artform as a cultural phenomenon presents the inherent ‘equipment and expertise’ as ways in which Laweyan leverages the economic potential of local cultural heritage in its tourism marketing. Findings show that supportive mechanisms and initiatives at local and national levels create awareness and interest in traditional batik heritage. Nevertheless, a concern for the productive capacities of rural villages must be harmonised with sustainable cultural tourism programmes for social and environmental benefits. From these principal findings, this paper contributes to design research by urging for the modernisation of batik as an iconic representation of Indonesian identity to be sustainably explored. Through designing, production, marketing and promotion via heritage tourism initiatives and through injecting contemporary ideas into batik production, it enables the preservation of generational wisdom through the intangible values of this distinctively beautiful and intricate fabric.

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