WORDS & PHOTOS: CHIDSUPANG CHAIWIROJ
When it comes to the colorfully-painted batik textile, there is a legend about a Malay princess who accidentally dropped candle wax onto the floor. Seeing the droplets, she got the idea to turn them into patterns. The word ‘titik’ which in the Malay language means ‘dots’ was the basis of the present-day word ‘batik’.
But that might be just a part of the bigger picture. Despite of the exact origin, the batik textile has become a shared heritage in many places around the world, from Egypt, Persia, China, Japan, Indonesia and the Malaysian peninsula. It is a local knowledge passed down among many families, and one of which is the Ruksawong family led by Thaninthorn Ruksawong, the third generation who founded Dala Batik to preserve this ancient art of batik making. As a Craft Master of SACICT, she combines the ancient art of batik making with metal stamps with contemporary designs.
Born in Narathiwat, Thaninthorn moved to Krabi after the unrest in the Deep South, just to be closer to her clients who are mostly from the hospitality industry, and to found a learning center for batik enthusiasts who can fly direct to Krabi to attend the workshops.
But despite of the convenience, the art of batik is not a piece of cake, since it requires a lot of patience and perseverance. "You cannot choose the work, it chooses you. You have to be determined enough to do it. Batik making is all about fighting with yourself. It is like meditation. The work can reflect the mood of the artisan. Everything comes from inside." Another challenge lies in the use of the ancient metal stamps which provide more intricate designs. “These days it’s nearly impossible to get traditional batik stamps. No one makes them because in order to create one it could take a month’s time.
When asked about the appeal of traditional batik, Thaninthorn answers that it lies in the traces of human workmanship that appears on the cloth itself. “Since opening the learning centre there has been a lot of international interest, some foreigners fly over here and learn for days. They understand that at some point, handmade crafts will return to popularity. The process of pressing the stamps down as well as other steps relies heavily on human skill. Of course, this means it’s impossible for the results to come out exactly the same each time. However, the charm is in the imperfections.” Today, every piece of batik cloth from Dala is produced using traditional batik stamps, though each piece of cloth that is produced will be one-of-a-kind. “To preserve ancient art forms you have to choose how to adapt them. How do you get modern products, while still retaining a traditional flair? That is something that really matters."