Tracing the legacy of batik sarong

Batik is one of the most popular of Malaysian crafts, yet so much can still be discovered about its history and development. Adline A. Ghani shares about a unique research project spearheaded by none other than Raja Datin Paduka Fuziah Raja Tun Uda, fondly known as Mak Engku, a woman who has dedicated her life to the development and promotion of Malaysian arts and crafts. 

Images Courtesy of the Batik Terengganu research team

Throughout her illustrious career, which began in the 1960s, Raja Fuziah has held several esteemed titles, including the first Director General of the Malaysian Handicraft Development Corporation (MHDC), President of the World Craft Council (WCC) Asia Pacific Region (which she currently serves as a board member) and Deputy Director General of the Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture in Istanbul (IRCICA).

Though she must have been busy raising a family, while breaking new ground and blazing trails for women in the industry, Raja Fuziah also took the time to organise and curate many exhibitions, publish numerous essays and lend her support and expertise to the local and international arts and crafts community. It came as no surprise, therefore, that she was chosen to receive the prestigious National Art Award 2008 for the Promotion of the Arts (Individual Category) by the Malaysian government.

Having published her book Batik Malaysia Design and Innovation 1960s – 1990s two years ago, Raja Fuziah is not quite ready to rest on her laurels. Instead, she has set out to delve further into Malaysian batik with her latest endeavour, Batik Sarong Terengganu – A Research Project.

The Project

The Batik Sarong Terengganu research project aims to compile and provide a comprehensive database on the batik sarong of Terengganu. It will chart the history and origins of batik sarong, how it was made and traded, as well as who were involved in developing the industry, how they were involved and what is happening to the batik sarong industry today.

The culmination of this project will be marked by the publication of a book entitled Batik Sarong Malaysia: Heritage of Today for Tomorrow, authored by Raja Fuziah, which is meant to serve as a reference for future generations of art researchers and enthusiasts.

Due to the scale of the project, Raja Fuziah is assisted by Erna Dyanty Mad Daluis, who has worked in the art industry for more than a decade. Erna, who also holds a Master’s In Art Management, serves the project as a coordinator and assistant researcher. In addition, she has helped the project tap into the power of social media, using platforms such as Facebook, Tumblr and YouTube to spread the word and raise the funds necessary for them to embark on research and documentation, as well as publish their findings.

The full cost required for the project is RM100,00.00, which will also be utilised to develop a batik archive, support their innovation and creative platform programme, as well as organise an exhibition and educational programmes.

The aim, as always, is to bring attention to the urgency of preserving Malaysian batik sarong. The exhibition and hands-on workshops, which will be held in Kuala Lumpur, are planned for December 2014. With enough funds, it would be possible for the team to transfer the knowledge into a digital format and have it available online for everyone around the world.

The Innovation and Creative Platform

With the knowledge and insight gained through this research project, Raja Fuziah envisions the establishment of the Innovative and Creative Platform, which seeks to merge the skills of traditional batik craftsmen and young Malaysian designers.  This merger is hoped to promote the transfer and sharing of knowledge between these two skills sets, in an effort to preserve our cultural heritage and the Easy Coast’s cottage industry.

The product of this merger will be materialised in limited-edition batik sarongs, which will also be turned into items like pouches and bags. As such, the Batik Sarong Terengganu Research Project is collaborating with local creative brand timitimitonga, also known as TiMi. Created by young Malaysian talent, Fariza Azlina Isahak, TiMi produces beautifully-handcrafted batik totes made out of limited-edition batik prints.

As Raja Fuziah and Erna embark on their batik adventure, they urge fellow Malaysians, cultural heritage advocates and anyone who has a love for art to join them in preserving something now for our future. As Erna eloquently states, “Everyone can be part of an innovative and creative project that serves to preserve a national cultural heritage.”

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