Art, Music & Culture
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Chiang Mai Textile Arts Group visits the Batik Painting School

Unit Asia hit all the right notes

“Jungle Hammocks” and the Mlabri Tribe of Pai

 

Chiang Mai Textile Arts Group visits the Batik Painting School

Elena Edwards
A recent visit by the Textile Arts Group to the Chiang Mai Batik Painting School in Doi Saket proved a highly enjoyable and educational day out. The school is a family-run business which offers a choice of two different courses for those interested in learning about this traditional painting and dyeing craft.

Members of the Textile Arts Group hold a beautiful batik painted linen cloth produced during their recent visit to the Chaing Mai Batik Painting School.

The word batik is an Indonesian word derived from Javanese, and in 17th century Dutch texts it refers to “coloured, patterned cloth.” The decorative technique itself of applying wax to silk or cotton to resist dye has to be at least 2,000 years old, with fragments of batik, probably Persian or Indian, having been discovered in Egyptian tombs.
The spread of batik from its ancient origins, all over Asia and into the Middle East, was aided by the movements of settlers from India, who brought the technique to Java in the 12th century, where it soon became very fashionable. Distinctive designs were used to identify the wearer’s rank and status, and also the areas in which they lived. In time, batik sarongs worn by both men and women became the national costume in Java.
When the Dutch colonised the region in the 17th century, batiks were imported to the West and again became very fashionable, with local factories being set up to make cheap imitations, often staffed by Javanese workers who fully understood the techniques involved. Not until the early 20th century, though, did batik become popular in the south of Thailand. In the 21st century, batik designs on fabric, paper and other materials are widely used worldwide as paintings and wall hangings.
After the material has been placed on a frame, the wax is applied with a variety of dye brushes, dependent on the required design. Fine lines and dots are drawn with cantings, traditional Javanese tools with a reservoir to hold the hot wax, which then flows through a spout onto the fabric.
The wax used is normally a blend of 50% beeswax and 50% paraffin wax, at a temperature of between 120 and 140 degrees Celsius, hot enough to penetrate the weave of the fabric on contact and block the dye from running where it is not needed. Of course, natural dyes are considered to be best for this traditional craft. The way that the dye spreads and blends on the fabric, creating its own patterns, is almost magical.
It is also possible to directly paint batik using first a water-soluble marker pen or soft pencil to create your design, then waxing all the solid lines using canting, before painting on the dye. When your masterpiece has been created, a fixing agent is applied to the dry fabric, which is then boiled for 5 minutes in water to which soda ash or liquid soap has been added. After plunging the fabric into cold water to cause the wax to solidify, it can then be rubbed or scraped from the surface of the cloth exposing the clean fabric, which is then washed, dried, ironed, and proudly displayed.
Of course, there’s far more to this fascinating and ancient decorative technique than described above; to really learn the intricacies it’s best to go, as the Textile Arts group did, and take a course.
For further information on the Chiang Mai Batik Painting School visit their website at www.chiangmaibatikschool.com..

 

Unit Asia hit all the right notes

Packed house enthusiastically welcomes international jazz combo

CMM staff reporters
On the last night of their 30-day tour of five Asian countries, the Unit Asia jazz group came to Chiang Mai to be greeted by a thousand-strong audience at the E.C. Cort Auditorium at Payap University – one of the sponsors of the tour.  The quintet, comprising artists from Japan, Malaysia and Thailand, played to a capacity crowd, with extra seating brought in to accommodate the fans.
The concert comprised ten listed compositions, generously added to by two encores, including a new work by the lead guitarist entitled For the Children.  The programme lasted well over two hours without an interval and, although the audience may have felt emotionally exhausted by the commanding onslaught of the music, the players displayed boundless energy throughout the entire evening as though this were the first night and not the climax to a busy tour.
Led by Japan’s Isao Myoshi (guitar) who also proved himself to be a most accomplished musician with six of the 12 pieces to his credit, the group comprised two others from Japan, bassist Shigeki Ippon, whose strong rhythms helped drive the group, and a superb drummer, Hiroyuki Noritake, whose sustained duets (especially with the Thai saxophonist) and solos were a highlight of the evening.
Tay Cher Siang on keyboard also gave a dazzling performance and was well represented by two most attractive compositions, Elephant Vanishes and One Town.  And for many of the audience the ‘star’ of the evening had to be Koh Mr. Saxman, resident in Bangkok but well known to Thai audiences (he was in Chiang Mai at the Kad Theatre only last month) for his magnificent and often lyrical playing.  Another highlight of the compositions was his very popular Mr. Saxman, in part a showpiece for his virtuosity and charismatic presence, but which also afforded a brilliant duet with the energetic drummer.
All of the music featured improvisation and it was a measure of the group’s rapport that after many concerts this seemed fresh and vital, justifying their claim to be a ‘new direction in Asian jazz.’
The response from the audience – many of whom were very young and possibly music students – must surely justify a return of the group at some future date.  Our thanks to them for a great and selfless evening and to the sponsors of the tour, Payap, the Japan Foundation, Yamaha and the Consulate General of Japan in Chiang Mai.


“Jungle Hammocks” and the Mlabri Tribe of Pai

CMM reporters
The Mlabri are an enigmatic group of about 300 people who, until a few decades ago, lived a nomadic life as hunter-gatherers in the dense forests and high mountains of Northern Thailand. For shelter, they would build temporary structures of bamboo poles thatched with fresh green banana leaves and occupy these for a while, until the banana leaves turned yellow. Then they would move on and start again.

By the time this woman will have finished weaving her hammock she will have spent 2 weeks at the task, have used over 3 kilometers of yarn, and made over 150,000 loops.

Since the proof of their existence consisted mostly of these abandoned huts, they were given the traditional Thai name of phi tong luang, meaning “Spirits of the Yellow Leaves.” However, since they are peaceful people and not ghosts, they prefer to be referred to as People of the Forest.
There is some controversy about the origin of the Mlabri, but at present they are recognized as (new) Thai citizens. They have had to struggle a long time for this recognition; many of their problems began when their natural habitat was destroyed by deliberate deforestation. At that time they were not allowed to own land and were forced to work for other tribes, often facing slave-like servitude, forced tour shows, and other indignities.
Some 20 years ago, they began receiving help from a missionary and his family. Great advances were achieved in the areas of education and health, but the need for a steady income remained.
In 1996 an adventurous motorcycle tour guide who had formerly worked as a textile engineer discovered the village of Pai and was struck by the women’s skills in making string bags from the fibre of jungle vines. Occasionally these bags would be sold as souvenirs, but sales were never enough to provide a reliable source of income. The tour guide, a Swiss national, offered his knowledge of weaving hammocks in order to help, thus beginning one of the most successful development projects in the area.
The Mlabri quickly adopted this new handicraft, which seemed to match well with their quiet lifestyle and consequently began production of the original Mlabri hammock, aka the Jungle Hammock. Meanwhile, they also mastered the tricky process of dyeing the cotton yarn, and the more intricate weaving techniques required for “sitting hammocks”, V-weaves and silk hammocks. Men have joined the workforce and production has now expanded to include 6 different styles of hammock.
Contrasting with traditional sweatshops, the goal was not to simply mass-produce at the lowest cost, regardless of the human needs of the labourers. The idea, rather, was aimed at offering financial independence for the Mlabri whilst enabling them to continue as much as was practicable with their own gentle and mainly agricultural lifestyle.
The result is that every hammock is produced in a healthy and family-oriented environment - the Mlabri home village - and also that the workers are paid an honest and fair wage. Money is set aside for healthcare and education and there is even a steadily growing social fund. None of this would have been possible without the Mlabri’s own enthusiasm.
If you stroll through the beautiful village of Pai, you will eventually run across a Mlabri Hammock, and hopefully decide that it will become an essential item in your, very different, lifestyle.