article by Raja Fuziah & Wairah Marzuki
As early as the seventies, Malaysian Batik made its debut in several interior design projects. In this issue of my BATIK ZEAL, Majidah Majid of Majidah Design, founding President of the Malaysian Society of Interior Design (MSID) and recepient of the MSID – IPDM Lifetime Contribution Award, shares her thoughts and experience in pioneering this intiative as well as her passion for collecting batik art-works in a special interview.
myBatik- We understand that you have been a long-time advocate of Malaysian batik. What do you find most appealing about it?
What I find most fascinating about Malaysian batik lies with its technique and the use of colours. We can do so many things with batik. I think the mix of colours is simply amazing. You cannot for instance, just decide on the mix of colours because the end result will be an over-mix. It’s not just a direct colour that will emerge… Batik is special in the sense that it overlaps the colours. I prefer working with motifs that are geometrical or ornamental in design or even designs that are related to plants.
myBatik- As an interior designer, you have pioneered the use of local batik as furnishing material, upholstery and decorative accessory in the public space. Please share this experience with us, the problems and achievements in undertaking this initiative.
My experience of working with batik started in the early seventies. I recall that the company I was working for then was working on the first five-star international hotel in Kuala Lumpur. A foreign interior designer was engaged to lead the interior design team. At the outset, it was decided the concept of the interior must show a Malaysian character with the extensive use of traditional design elements.
It was an eye-opening experience to see batik being used in what we thought then, new ways. Batik fabric were laminated in panels for the doors of the bedroom cabinets and batik fabric stretched on foam backing as decorative feature over the bed heads.
Since then, especially after opening my own practice, I started using batik materials for the finishes of the interior space. For a hotel project in Terengganu, we used batik as curtains with a simple diagonal lines motif but in the traditional “crackled wax” technique. Another hotel in Kelantan, we incorporated the traditional spinning top (gasing) motif using block printing (cap) for the bed covers. This project was also interesting as we saw how the batik craftsmen grappled with the difficulty of working with thicker cotton damask. I have also used loose batik cushion covers for rattan armchairs using wood carving motif in vibrant colours for a Clubhouse Lounge Bar in Kuala Lumpur.
Of course there are several challenges in using batik. Namely, we Malaysians tend to feel it is quite common and a rather ‘cheap’ idea. However, thanks to the Piala Seri Endon effort in promoting batik for soft furnishings, this is beginning to change. Before, the operators or owners of hotels were not keen whenever we propose to use batik for the furnishings or accent pieces. They felt that batik is a cheap product and difficult to maintain as the material used for batik printing is not of high quality and heavy-duty enough for public spaces.
Another difficulty is it takes a considerable amount of time and cost to produce batik for curtains and upholstery due to the labour intensive nature of the process compared to machine printed fabrics which are cheaper and readily available. There is also the issue of preparing samples for approvals and quality control when the meterage required is large.
myBatik – What lessons can we learn from this and what do you think should be done for the promotion of local batik in the immediate future?
I think it was the Piala Seri Endon challenge that paved the way for batik to make a huge comeback. The works that have been submitted for soft furnishing selections are of a high standard and internationally accepted so, batik has a better chance than before to make a huge impact.
I think the design community, meaning people like designers, developers and hotel owners should encourage people to use batik. Artists and designers should work together with batik craftsmen to break new ground in batik design. A lot of batik designs are copies when they should in fact, be new designs all the time to avoid monotony and make it vibrant.
In Malaysia, we have done well with the promotion of batik and the infusion of new design, so much so, that an Indonesian batik designer once lamented that our government support the batik industry more than theirs. However, we are still lacking in research and development. I don’t advocate the use of machine printed batik as the human element is absent. Rather, we should widen the use of batik by making it more relevant to the modern lifestyle. New techniques and materials should be made available to the craftsmen. For instance, why don’t we develop batik with a water-resistant protective coating for easier maintenance?
Another point to consider is, since batik is a shared heritage within our region, why don’t we share each other’s knowledge, experiences and design wealth? We have a lot to learn from the batik industries in countries like Indonesia and vice versa.
myBatik – Your “zeal” for batik is reflected in your private collection of batik as art-to-wear handrawn pieces especially by the batik textile artist, the late Yusoff Fadzil Idris of Yuzari Batik. Would you kindly share your passion for and thoughts on collecting these art works?
I am one of those who have always supported the works of the late Yusoff Fadzil Idris of Yuzari Batik and am one of those who have used his products to promote batik. As an artist, he did not take my criticism too well, but out of the dispute emerged an immense expression of creativity and craftsmanship – an output of batik cloth of extraordinary design, unique and visionary. I would say that he was truly a gem of the batik world. I have collected and kept them for my own collection and have also bought a lot of these art-works as gifts for my foreign friends because they really appreciate our Malaysian Batik