A batik illustrating kaprarang footwear that came to the Cape with slaves from Malaysia and Indonesia.
A batik illustrating kaprarang footwear that came to the Cape with slaves from Malaysia and Indonesia.

BATIK WORKSHOP by Faiqah Abrahams at Casa Labia Cultural Centre on Friday. Veronica C Wilkinson previews.

TEXTILES and their colour and patterning – seen as ancient signalling systems which still have value today because of their cultural relevance – are an important part of our lives.

Visual language is universal and Faiqah Abrahams has been exploring a legacy introduced by her family, of craft excellence, the sensuality and texture of fabric, and effect, since her formative years.

Her roles as an educator and textile artist have lent insight and opportunity that developed her passion for textile art, enriched by study in Kelantan in Malaysia and Yogyakarta in Java.

Closer to home, she has had a silk painting, Ancestral Routes (2006), commissioned by the Western Cape government to hang in Parliament, and even designed a tie for Trevor Manuel which he wore during his Budget speech in 1999.

Combining the batik wax resist method of applying design to fabric with stitch techniques such as Japanese shibori, this artist skilfully displays an assimilation of application that demonstrates why she has participated in exhibitions at venues ranging from the SA National Gallery (1994) to the Istanbul International Trade Fair in Turkey (1998).

The Indian/Malay word batik means “to dot”. Hot wax is applied to textile surfaces with a tool called a canting, a small copper container with one to seven spouts.

Areas to remain free of dye are covered with wax, which is scraped off after immersion in the dye and drying.

Other portions of the cloth can then be waxed and dyed as steps in the coloring and design process.

Shibori is a Japanese term for methods of dyeing cloth by binding, stitching, folding, twisting and compressing.

In Japan, the earliest known example of cloth dyed with the shibori technique dates to the 8th century, when indigo was the main dye used.

Batik is an important material expression of spiritual and cultural values in South-East Asia, often with region-specific motifs and dye combinations adding status to the textile.

Abrahams worked at Groote Schuur Hospital in 1982 after her education at Salt River High School, and her formal art foundation was through classes at the Ruth Prowse School of Art in Woodstock.

Study in Malaysia has left her enthusiastic about the culture and secrets of the bee and paraffin wax combinations that complement the aromas and spice of an exotic part of the world where a tropical climate and flamboyant vegetation conspire to seduce and relax visitors.

The influence of American textile artist Sheila Hicks is apparent in Abrahams’s work and it is exciting to know that threads of relevant contemporary and art historical fact are transmitted by Abrahams through her cultural encounters.

A significant acknowledgement of her talent has recently been made through the awarding of a two-month artist in residency programme scheduled for September next year at the Australian National University in Canberra.

Abrahams is looking forward to learning more about digital technology through fibre art and acquainting herself with new skills.

She studied advanced batik resist art and dye technology in Yogyakarta, the capital of Java, in 2000 and represented South Africa at the World Eco-Fiber and Textile art exhibition in Malaysia in 2005.

Many of the designs produced in Yogyakarta are unique. Telling me that her art is driven by passion, the generosity of that sentiment manifests in her community involvement through workshops where she shares her knowledge and skill by teaching and demonstrating technique.

According to Abrahams, Kelantan is the province where Muslim batik production originated in Malaysia.

“In South Africa, textile art is rarely offered as a fully-fledged part of the visual art curriculum.

“It’s been my wish to revive the historical textile art skills and methods related to the Malaysian heritage – a heritage to which many South Africans trace their origins.

“Individuals active in the field are mostly left to their own devices to explore and develop their own particular branch of interest.”

In keeping with modern trends, the combination of traditional and innovative, deft surface effects using contrasting textures and tones cross geographic and time thresholds.

Straddling boundaries between modern abstract painting and the 19th century Japanese boro method of patching and reconstructing fabric and garments results in Abrahams’s work resembling collages.

Telling me that boro bears traces of the real lives of real people, Abrahams points out that the soul or beauty of the textiles “resides in the fact that their beauty is accidental, completely unintentional”.

On a constant quest to explore and experiment with the materials at her disposal, the artist embraces the serendipity of her creative process through the mediums and materials at her disposal.

A sensual embrace of aesthetic savvy and adventurous experimentation with art that changes its focus and is functional has resulted in a refreshing oeuvre of unusual effects and surface combinations.

l To join the Textile Resist Dyeing and Painting Workshop on Friday from 10am to 4pm, call 021 788 6068. Participants will express ideas through batik textile processes and surface design patterns.