Sun, 23 Mar 2003

Nyoman sees batik as meditation

Damaso Reyes Contributor Ubud, Bali

There may be as many places to learn batik, the traditional Indonesian hand-dyed textile, as there are places to eat nasi goreng, Indonesian fried rice. However, it is hard to imagine a batik class that is more fun than the one at the compound of I Nyoman Suradnya in Ubud, Bali.

A painter-cum-batik artist, Nyoman, as he insists on being called, has been teaching the art of batik for over 25 years in places as diverse as the state of Montana in the U.S., Australia and Singapore. As an artist who began by working with oils and watercolors, Nyoman learned batik when he was already well into his training as an artist.

"For me, batik began as an extracurricular activity," Nyoman said, smiling. "I fancied someone in school and she wanted to take a batik class," he added, arching his eyebrows and laughing.

The difference in medium opened up a whole new world for the young artist. "There are many more colors I can get in batik than I can in oil or watercolor," he said, explaining the difference between the mediums. "Batik is very good for relaxing when I need a break from oil or watercolor."

For Nyoman, batik is what he calls "meditation in action".

"You need to focus your mind and body in here," he said while inspecting the work of a student in one of his classes. "Doing batik is the same as meditating; you have to be aware of your breathing and your actions. There is a kind of instant karma; you can burn yourself or make quite a mess if you aren't focused."

The actual technical process of batik is so simple that Nyoman offers one-day classes. The core technique of batik involves applying hot wax to fabric and dying the fabric in different colors. Every time a layer of wax is added to a different section of fabric, that section will resist all the other dyes that are applied in succession; hence the name of the technique -- "resistance dyeing".

The tool used in batik is called a canting, pronounced chanting, which is tipped with a copper well that narrows into a hollow nib of various shapes and sizes. The artist dips the canting into a pot of heated wax, usually beeswax mixed with tree resin, and applies the wax to the fabric. Within a few minutes, even the least artistic person can get the hang of the process, although it does indeed require intense concentration.

While applying the hot wax, everything else seems to melt away as you trace the pencil lines of your sketched design on the fabric. Once you have completed the outline of your design, you apply the appropriate color of dye with a paintbrush. Over the dye, you add a binding agent, which will protect the dye from the layer of wax applied to retain the color. The process is repeated for each separate color and finally, the entire sheet of fabric is dipped in the background color, which will be absorbed by any part of cloth that is free of any wax.

Within only a few short hours, with a break for lunch of course, your very own batik painting emerges from the cleaning solution used to remove all traces of the wax layers applied earlier. Throughout it all, Nyoman and his team of assistants guide and help the new "artists" through the process, providing suggestions and technical help.

He claims that anyone from six to 70 years old can learn batik, although he does vary his teaching methods to the abilities of his students.

"As long as they are willing to be in the here and now, and allow their hands to be the projections of their hearts, they can do it," he said. "It (creating batik) is about using the correct water and fertilizer. I am only teaching them the ABC's; if they then want to write a book they already know the alphabet."

In addition to teaching classes once a week, Nyoman operates a homestay with six rooms within his compound of four buildings, where he and his family live, along with a dog and at least a dozen birds who are more than happy to give you a wake-up call in the morning.

"I am glad to share our lives others. It's good for people to come and share the Balinese family life," he said. "People don't get this experience staying at a hotel."

Nirvana Gallery and Pension is located on Jl. Gautama 10, Banjar Padantegal Kaja, Ubud, Bali. Tel: (62-361) 975 415 or 977 624; email: Courses range from one-day classes at US$35 per person, to five- day courses at $25 per person per day. A night at the homestay costs about $30.