I love batik that tells a story. By this I do not mean the European-influenced fairytale batik of the last century produced in Java during the Dutch colonial occupation in Indonesia, that depict snow white or little red riding hood. I mean batik that tells us something about real life. I have always loved the mega mendung motif batiks of Cirebon, East Java, and have in the past used the cloud symbol to tell the story of carbon pollution from the exhaust of modern transportation. Recently I have had the opportunity to work with a very skilled husband and wife team from Cirebon who specialize in producing magnificent mega mendung batik. The mega mendung motif is characterized by a series of gradations of color forming stylized cloud-like patterns. Bu Bun and her husband, Pak Uripah have produced the only 9 gradation mega mendung batik I have ever seen. They agreed to produce this latest story batik design, using the cloud again as a symbol of the carbon pollution from coal-burning electricity generating plants.
The format is the tradition kain panjang, 2.5 meters by 105cm, on primissima cotton, using chemical dyes.
It took approximately 7 months to complete. There are seven gradations of grey to black. Each gradation is a separate application of color followed by a submerging of the entire cloth in the dye bath. The background is covered with wax to protect it from the grey dye bath until the last gradation. Then all of the wax is removed, the gradations and other details are covered with wax, so that the background can be dyed red. Then all of the wax is removed and the cloth is finished.
The skill of Bu Bun is evident in the clean even lines of the gradations. This requires infinite skill with the canting. The even gradation of color demonstrates the great skill of Pak Uripah in mixing the dyes to achieve just the right variation of each gradation.
I want to also give credit to Mbak Atie who is my expert agent and coordinator for the batik of Cirebon. She personally supervised and assisted Bu Bun and Pak Uripah in planning each stage of the production. Her knowledge of the process was invaluable.