Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by viravira on 20 January 2016 • Blog
I gotta admit, I’m not a big fan of Indonesia’s traditional textiles in general. I’m speaking for myself because Mumun is a sucker for them as told here. I’m not sure why, but my eyes just rarely sparkle when I see them. Yeah, it’s mostly a visual thing for me, maybe that’s why. I know that batik, ikat and songket – among other Indonesian textiles – are meticulously made, but to me at the end it’s more of what meets the eyes. Colors, shapes, and often simplicity, are the things that matter most to me. The feel of the fabric – if it’s something to wear – comes next.
I was scrolling my Instagram feed one day, and I noticed a new clothing line from Chitra Subiyakto, an Indonesian fashion stylist. I checked and turns out it’s more of a batik line. It’s called Sejauh Mata Memandang, translates to ‘as far as the eyes can see’. The products are batik cloth, or as she likes to call it in Indonesian word ‘kain’, and clothes made of the kain. Interesting patterns, in a sense that they’re simple and modern-ish. The clothes are also with simple cutting, worn by itself or combined with other modern pieces of clothes, pants and accessories. Navy blue and white dominate the color scheme, making it look more elegant and cool, as I am basically a fan of the cool colors aside to red.
Sejauh Mata Memandang is Chitra’s first cloth(ing) line, but not her first work that captured my heart. I was a first-jobber at a video production company when introduced to her in 2003-ish, where she was freelancing as a fashion stylist. I quickly learned that she was very creative with wardrobe. Since then, I was always excited to see her works in magazines, musical plays and movies. She has a playful and unconventional style, and not playing hard to impress.
About a decade passed by, I rarely meet Chitra. We only kept in touch via likes on Instagram and Facebook. So I was surprised to get an invitation to her first solo exhibition in December 2015. Undoubtedly I cleared out my schedule to attend the opening.
The exhibition was set in a warehouse-like hall in Plaza Indonesia shopping mall, Jakarta. It was specifically about Sejauh and the cloths were displayed creatively and playfully. One huge part of the space was set dark with a video of serene beach projected to a wall, and the DJ was playing chill music. Chitter chatter was going among friends and family of Chitra’s, which many were Indonesian celebrities. I knew almost no one, but I enjoyed the laid-back ambiance.
Laid-back, is one of the adjectives I would use to describe Chitra, other than sweet and humble. In between her busy schedule being a stylist, a designer, a businesswoman, a wife and a mother, she kindly took time to talk with Mumun and me about none other than Sejauh and her inspiration. Casa restaurant in Kemang, South Jakarta, was her choice of place for the talk.
Not unlike Mumun and me with our traveling habit, Chitra also ‘inherited’ her love for traditional kain from her parents. “As the youngest kid, I was always tagging along wherever my Mom went, including going to check out for kain. I would get bored, predictably, but as I got older I appreciate it more and more,” she said. Family activity also meant going to art exhibitions and discussed about the artworks. With an art and culture-loving family like that, she didn’t really need art education to develop her artistic sense. But it was Edward Hutabarat’s Part One works, in which this Indonesian designer turned batik into casual daily wear, that opened her eyes about batik’s versatility. Even without having to be sewn into clothes, Chitra can turn batik cloth into stylish daily wear.
“People asked me where I got my inspiration to create things. It’s really easy, you can get it from anywhere, anything,” she said while flapping the menu card as a fan in the hot Jakarta afternoon because the air conditioner was off due to power cut. “For example, the algae series of Sejauh. I got the idea from the sea, when I looked down from the airplane. It looked so clear from up there, but not so much when you look at it from the boat.” She also got creative with the fishermen on boats pattern. “I love the beach. I don’t like swimming in the ocean much, but I love being on a beach. I would look at the fishermen and their boats, and.. it became a pattern, only I drew it from top view.” And it has become my personal favorite from Sejauh by far.
Why batik? We couldn’t not ask Chitra that. The obvious answer was that she has been familiar with batik all her life. “I also wanted the young generation to like batik and to understand that batik is actually a technique, not a pattern or motif. [And to show that] batik can have a simple and modern pattern,” she said in her soft but determined voice.
Chitra looked far and wide and carefully for batik crafters that could help her realize her ideas, mainly in Central and East Java. After a year looking, finally a few younger crafters signed up for the job. “Batik crafters are artists too. Whatever design I make becomes a whole new enhanced design in their hands. A lot of them were confused with my design because they weren’t used to simple motifs. This kind of collaboration makes a richer design.”
Chitra realized that batik tulis could be very pricey because it’s one dot after another being drawn (tulis) on the cloth manually with a canting. So the pattern for batik cap (stamped batik) is also created. It makes sense, considering that she aims to make batik more popular and accepted by the youth, who in general can’t afford too much for a cloth. Even Chitra still has to shop wisely.
She loves kain so much, sometimes she stops herself from visiting kain shops to avoid excessive shopping. “Like that time when I was in Sumba Island, working for the wardrobe for Pendekar Tongkat Emas movie. I encouraged a friend of mine, who is a kain collector, to go and buy this ikat from the local. It cost a fortune but it was really beautiful! Afterwards, I borrowed it from her to study it.” Smart move.
Now that she has her hands full with Sejauh, she has to be a bit picky with styling job. A gig for the highly anticipated sequel of Indonesian hit movie Ada Apa Dengan Cinta is one that she couldn’t possibly turn down, and you’ll see some of Sejauh kain being worn in the movie. But she promised to come up with more creations, taking Sejauh further with more of Indonesian traditional textiles. Chitra is not in love only with the textiles, but also the nature of Indonesia that keeps her saying “As far as the eyes can see…it’s blue [of ocean],” or “As far as the eyes can see..it’s green [of the trees and savanna].” Hence the poetic name, Sejauh Mata Memandang.
This new line of batik has stolen my attention and pretty sure a space in my wardrobe in the very near future. I’ve been eyeing on a few patterns and picturing myself wrapped around in it. Chitra hasn’t only created awesome works, she also has shown me that wearing kain can be practical and easy, still looking modern and at the same time paying an homage to Indonesian culture. I admit the prices are above the average of my clothes and kain purchases, but the admiration is above average as well.
Where to Buy Sejauh Mata Memandang:
If you want to touch and feel the kain or clothes and accessories before you purchase them, they’re available at several outlets in Jakarta (including Alun-Alun Indonesia, Dia.Lo.Gue and Goods Dept in Pacific Place), Bali (Airport Shop, Potato Head, and Jewel Rocks), and Surabaya.
For more detailed information and catalogue, you can email them to firstname.lastname@example.org