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Art & Dialog Indonesia: Batik Rifaiyah

October 9, 2022 @ 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm PDT

Get to know the Rifaiyah batik tradition in Java with a live digital visit to their batik village

The Batik tradition that lives among the Rifaiyah people of North Java breathes the spiritual teachings of KH. Ahmad Rifai (1786-1869). During the Dutch East Indies era, he and other clerics resisted colonialism using symbols of ‘purification’ of Islam. On November 5, 2014 the government of the Republic of Indonesia awarded KH. Rifai the title of National Hero (Keppres No. 89/TK/2004). His teachings are still growing among his disciples, who came to be known as the Rifaiyah people. The teachings of KH. Ahmad Rifai is inscribed in books of poems tarjumah and continues to serve as a guide for the Rifaiyah people. The Rifaiyah women express these teachings in their batik. The village of Kalipucang Wetan Batang, Central Java, is one of the centers of the Rifaiyah community and the only one where the Rifaiyah batik tradition is still going strong. In this village, Rifaiyah’s batik is used as clothing, as a body wrap (kain panjang) for women and a tubular wrapped skirt (sarung) for men, and the Rifaiyah batik tradition plays an important ritual role for the Rifaiyah people in this village.

The batik motifs are ‘floral’ because of the Islamic prohibition on drawing living things other than plants, except those that are dead or have been cut off. Although the Rifaiyah batik motifs contain forms of animal parts, they are presented in a state that is no longer intact as an animal. They are ‘cut into pieces’ and disguised in floral design.

For women, Rifaiyah, or ‘making batik’ is not just inscribing wax onto cloth, but also an Islamic spiritual practice that is deeply rooted in Javanese culture. In Rifaiyah batik there may be influences from ‘outside’, but all of them are merged and linked to the roots, as though integral to Java. Like the tarajumah book, although it is written in Arabic characters, the language and sounds are still Javanese. These tarajumah poems are also what Rifaiyah women sing when making batik. The batik process is still relatively ‘pure’, or uninfluenced by industrial logic. In contrast to batik outside this community which has generally been affected by expanded ‘divisions of labor’ and so-called ‘efficiency’ of performance, each Rifaiyah batik maker still carries out all the processes herself from beginning to end. She draws directly and freehand in wax on the cloth, without pencil sketches. She uses the batik drawing implement called ‘canting’.

In this session, there will be a livestream visit to the batik village of Rifaiyah. Attendees will have a chance to visit batik makers who create batik in their homes. The artisans are close neighbors. The livestream will capture the creative process, daily atmosphere, and spirituality, and there will be the opportunity to have conversations with the batik makers. The Rifaiyah batik makers will feel honored to connect directly with visitors from various places/countries, and the event will heighten their resolve to continue their traditions.


October 9, 2022
7:00 pm - 9:00 pm
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