For the first time ever, a World Batik Conference was held in the United States (June 7–14), thanks largely to the efforts of artist Betsy Sterling Benjamin. Massachusetts College of Art in Boston hosted the event, which offered pre- and postconference workshops, an international cadre of conference presenters, and a keynote speech about the long tradition of wax-resist fabric dyeing (or rozome, as batik is known in Japan).
Betsy Sterling Benjamin and Luanne Rimel, Door to the Sea (with detail), 2005; mixed-media assemblage on layered silk, machine-stitched text; 74" x 29". From Visual Meditations: A Collaborative, at the President’s Gallery, Massachusetts College of Art, Boston.
Artists from around the world lectured, demonstrated, and exhibited their works in this groundbreaking event. Ray Pierotti of the U.S. talked about new directions in contemporary batik that come from “cross-fertilization” of global techniques. Margaret C. Perivoliotis of Greece traced the history of the wax-resist process in the Mediterranean. Australian Tony Dyer addressed the impact of British colonization and Asian proximity on the imagery in his own batiks, while Peter Wenger of France discussed how the layering of three traditional batik dye colors—indigo, soga brown, and mengkudu red—differs from media such as acrylic paint. Nia Fliam and Agus Ismoyo of Indonesia shared their experience working collaboratively, using their recent work with Australian aboriginal batik artists and rural Javanese students as examples. Other artists and scholars from the United Kingdom, Indonesia, Europe, Asia, Australia, and the U.S. addressed marketing, motifs, designers, and dyes.
Rosi Robinson, Monday Monday, batik on cotton; From Batik: The Narrative Voice, at Towne Art Gallery, Wheelock College, Boston.
While the art of batik dates back 2,500 years, the artists of today have continued to reinterpret and reinvent the traditional process. Using such innovations as discharge (to create negative images) and ro-shibori, (a combination of bound resist and wax resist) as well as specially designed copper stamps known as caps, contemporary artists are creating everything from pure abstraction to photorealist portraits.
In fifteen related exhibitions throughout the Greater Boston area, some of the world’s best contemporary batik artists brought these modern expressions and interpretations to a wide-ranging audience. With a background in textile chemistry and decorative art, Rita Trefois creates batiks that play subtle colors against each other with surprising energy (Flemish Perceptions: Batik by Rita Trefois at Wentworth Institute of Technology, Boston). In her wax-resist work called Emotions, for example, a series of pale, sticklike bands seem to tumble down a dark-brown silk fabric, their red-tipped ends resembling match heads waiting to ignite.
Rita Trefois, Emotions, 2005; wax resist on silk. From Flemish Perceptions: Batik by Rita Trefois, at the Casella Gallery, Wentworth Institute of Technology, Boston.
The Rozome Masters of Japan exhibition at Massachusetts College of Art (which will travel to The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C., October 14, 2005–February 26, 2006) likewise illustrates contemporary variations. Shoukoh Kobayashi’s Wind ’04 is an abstraction of that subject with rhythmic black and gray stripes that fold over themselves in a fluid ripple of waves scattering fragments beneath.
Shoukoh Kobayashi, Wind ’04; 70" x 126". From Rozome Masters of Japan, at the Stephen D. Paine Gallery, Massachusetts College of Art, Boston.
At the Brush Art Gallery in Lowell, Massachusetts, the exhibit Floating Worlds showcased the batik art of Korean artist Hyangsook Park.
Hyangsook Park, Inner Peace; wax resist and screen print on silk; 16" x 23 1/2".
From Floating Worlds at the Brush Art Gallery in Lowell, Massachusetts.
Curator E. Linda Poras explains that Park mixes the conventional resist process with silk screening and computer-generated images. Park’s work features fish, chairs, chrysanthemums, sheet music, and other symbolic elements in a sea of waves and water patterns that resemble a fantastic, surreal aquarium. The juxtaposition of these elements and their asymmetrical arrangements combine to create visually stimulating and ultimately soothing pictures. (The exhibition can still be seen on the gallery website, thebrush.org.)
Jonathan Evans, Young Woman and Indian Fabric; batik on cotton; 2 8" x 1' 10". From Batik: The Narrative Voice, at Towne Art Gallery, Wheelock College, Boston.
Batik exhibits also were mounted at the New England Quilt Museum and the American Textile History Museum, both in Lowell. The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, presented a related lecture and dance performance, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, allowed conferees a private viewing of its 300-piece collection of Indonesian batiks.
Barbara Rizza Mellin, the former editor of ArtsAround Boston, is an art historian who writes frequently about arts and travel.
At left: Tony Dyer, Layered Stack, 2004; batik, constructed form, machine stitched; 61" x 22". From Layered Meaning, at Brant Gallery, Massachusetts College of Art, Boston.
Vernal Bogren Swift, What Dogs Know, 2001; batik; 52" x 48". From Batik: Three Canadian Artists, at Simmons College, Trustman Gallery, Boston.