Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Sufi Thorn among Batik Roses

By Grace Chen - All Malaysia - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Sunday, August 15, 2007

A master batik artist believes that the art of batik can be taught in a short time and good batik artists can be produced in six months.

Master batik artist Abdul Kareem Khadaied reasons that the best way to learn about colour preferences is to go back to the roots of teaching batik painting.

The airy sunlit studio located at Mt Kiara, Kuala Lumpur, where Abdul Kareem Khadaied presides as teacher bears the unmistakable whiffs of boiling wax and pigment dyes as he holds a ‘canting’ (wax applicator) delicately in his hands.

Over a yard of white cloth stretched horizontally like a hammock across the studio, fluid and swirly patterns emerge from his deft hands and there is no doubt that his students – all 25 ladies from the expatriate community – are mesmerised.

Abdul Kareem Khadaied may not be a familiar name in the local fashion scene, like Carven Ong and Bill Keith, but in the world of batik, he is regarded as one of its masters.

“The first thing you must know is batik is a methodology, not a design. The word originates from Indonesia. It means dropping the wax onto cloth,” explains Kareem.

The 53-year-old master batik artist certainly knows his stuff as he is the head of Khadani, a 25-year-old batik textile design house with one main retail outlet at The Mall, KL.
He is also a member of the World Batik Council and has steadfastly insisted that he is the inventor of the men’s batik silk shirt which he began making in 1983.

“Don’t believe me? Just mention my name to some of the master tailors like Robert of Lord’s and Wong of Figure Fashion. You can also ask the owners of Wardrobe and Profimo,” he challenges.

And mind what you say about batik with this artist, who makes no bones that this art form has not been given its due recognition. He is also unapologetic about his traditionalist stand on how batik should be worn. In his opinion, the current batch of contemporary batik wear from local designers carries questionable issues of modesty.

“Batik must never lose its ‘Malaysianness’. Why do we have to be ‘ang moh’ (Westernised) all the time? Why can’t we see the beauty in baju kurungs, sarees and cheongsams?” he once questioned hotly.

It is a statement which has prompted another batik designer, Kartini Illias, to opine that such views will only restrict the batik industry.

While Kareem will not give in to his stand on modesty, it looks like even a traditionalist must learn the art of adjustment if he wants to go global.

At present, the house of Khadani has only a 30% stake in their export sector and Kareem is eager to see this grow. And thus, this answers the question of why this artist, who already has a RM2.5 million annual turnover, has gone back to teaching when he could have spent his mornings playing golf.

“The class is my way of laying the building blocks for business in the overseas market. I admit that I’ve never gone really far because I’ve never understood the colours of the export market,” he says.

Colours, explains Kareem, do not speak a universal language. For example, the accepted shade of red in Malaysia will not find the same favour in New York. What is accepted as Earth tones or soft pastels in Japan will not be the case in South Africa.

The logical explanation is: Colour is the product of light. In some places, due to the sun’s intensity, the colours will be very strong.

Where there is more cloud cover, the colours will be more subdued. So, the taste for colours will coincide with how people from different regions see it in their daily lives.

Back to the batik painting class, Kareem will have no shortage of feedback on international colour palettes where his students are concerned. Of the 25 students in his class, only two are Malaysian. The rest are made up of diverse nationalities – from India, South Korea, Argentina, South Africa, Europe, Australia and Spain.

Inviting me to look closely at his students’ canvasses, he points out to the myriad characteristics of their colour preferences. For example, the red and purplish cosmic swirls of Sunandhini Pattabhiraman from India is a contrast to Korean Kim Gui Young’s pink, red and yellow hues.

Australian Karen Bakerho and South African Heide Jones may have the same design but there is a marked difference in their preference of shades. Indonesian Monique Batuna’s rainbow combination of colours is a reminder of the tropics while Kim’s piece has more the semblance of a wintry feel with hues of blue.

So what is the master batik artist like in class, considering he is the only thorn among the roses?

Straight, strict and definitely no nonsense best describes Kareem’s demeanour.

“In addition to studying the colours, I also want to make a point to the industry that the art of batik can be taught in a short time and good batik artists can be produced in six months.

“The secret to achieving this is to teach with passion,” he says.

And one can expect Kareem to be very particular with things like how the tools are held and the onus on the student to feel their colour and understand why it might please them and not others.

There is the expectation that after three months of weekly classes, each lasting for four hours, a student will have a good command of technique application in their work. The duration of the course is six months.

But what if you’ve always been lousy with art? Won’t this be seen as a major handicap in Kareem’s class?

“See this?” says Kareem pointing to Kim and Sunandhini’s work. “These ladies had no artistic background but they have managed to come up with these pieces,” he says proudly.

And considering that Kim has only been under Kareem’s tutelage for one and a half months, the effect, in this writer’s opinion, was not bad at all.

To sign up for Kareem’s class, you can contact the master batik artist himself at 019-241 3494 for a student assessment.


[More on Batik: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batik]

[picture: Batik Master Abdul Kareem Khadaied introducing salt crystals to a student’s work, a technique used in batik painting. Photo by Grace Chen]

1 comment:

irving said...

Just fascinating. I knew only vaguely of batik, and you have opened up another new world of knowledge, just a little shy of China :)

Ya Haqq!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Sufi Thorn among Batik Roses
By Grace Chen - All Malaysia - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Sunday, August 15, 2007

A master batik artist believes that the art of batik can be taught in a short time and good batik artists can be produced in six months.

Master batik artist Abdul Kareem Khadaied reasons that the best way to learn about colour preferences is to go back to the roots of teaching batik painting.

The airy sunlit studio located at Mt Kiara, Kuala Lumpur, where Abdul Kareem Khadaied presides as teacher bears the unmistakable whiffs of boiling wax and pigment dyes as he holds a ‘canting’ (wax applicator) delicately in his hands.

Over a yard of white cloth stretched horizontally like a hammock across the studio, fluid and swirly patterns emerge from his deft hands and there is no doubt that his students – all 25 ladies from the expatriate community – are mesmerised.

Abdul Kareem Khadaied may not be a familiar name in the local fashion scene, like Carven Ong and Bill Keith, but in the world of batik, he is regarded as one of its masters.

“The first thing you must know is batik is a methodology, not a design. The word originates from Indonesia. It means dropping the wax onto cloth,” explains Kareem.

The 53-year-old master batik artist certainly knows his stuff as he is the head of Khadani, a 25-year-old batik textile design house with one main retail outlet at The Mall, KL.
He is also a member of the World Batik Council and has steadfastly insisted that he is the inventor of the men’s batik silk shirt which he began making in 1983.

“Don’t believe me? Just mention my name to some of the master tailors like Robert of Lord’s and Wong of Figure Fashion. You can also ask the owners of Wardrobe and Profimo,” he challenges.

And mind what you say about batik with this artist, who makes no bones that this art form has not been given its due recognition. He is also unapologetic about his traditionalist stand on how batik should be worn. In his opinion, the current batch of contemporary batik wear from local designers carries questionable issues of modesty.

“Batik must never lose its ‘Malaysianness’. Why do we have to be ‘ang moh’ (Westernised) all the time? Why can’t we see the beauty in baju kurungs, sarees and cheongsams?” he once questioned hotly.

It is a statement which has prompted another batik designer, Kartini Illias, to opine that such views will only restrict the batik industry.

While Kareem will not give in to his stand on modesty, it looks like even a traditionalist must learn the art of adjustment if he wants to go global.

At present, the house of Khadani has only a 30% stake in their export sector and Kareem is eager to see this grow. And thus, this answers the question of why this artist, who already has a RM2.5 million annual turnover, has gone back to teaching when he could have spent his mornings playing golf.

“The class is my way of laying the building blocks for business in the overseas market. I admit that I’ve never gone really far because I’ve never understood the colours of the export market,” he says.

Colours, explains Kareem, do not speak a universal language. For example, the accepted shade of red in Malaysia will not find the same favour in New York. What is accepted as Earth tones or soft pastels in Japan will not be the case in South Africa.

The logical explanation is: Colour is the product of light. In some places, due to the sun’s intensity, the colours will be very strong.

Where there is more cloud cover, the colours will be more subdued. So, the taste for colours will coincide with how people from different regions see it in their daily lives.

Back to the batik painting class, Kareem will have no shortage of feedback on international colour palettes where his students are concerned. Of the 25 students in his class, only two are Malaysian. The rest are made up of diverse nationalities – from India, South Korea, Argentina, South Africa, Europe, Australia and Spain.

Inviting me to look closely at his students’ canvasses, he points out to the myriad characteristics of their colour preferences. For example, the red and purplish cosmic swirls of Sunandhini Pattabhiraman from India is a contrast to Korean Kim Gui Young’s pink, red and yellow hues.

Australian Karen Bakerho and South African Heide Jones may have the same design but there is a marked difference in their preference of shades. Indonesian Monique Batuna’s rainbow combination of colours is a reminder of the tropics while Kim’s piece has more the semblance of a wintry feel with hues of blue.

So what is the master batik artist like in class, considering he is the only thorn among the roses?

Straight, strict and definitely no nonsense best describes Kareem’s demeanour.

“In addition to studying the colours, I also want to make a point to the industry that the art of batik can be taught in a short time and good batik artists can be produced in six months.

“The secret to achieving this is to teach with passion,” he says.

And one can expect Kareem to be very particular with things like how the tools are held and the onus on the student to feel their colour and understand why it might please them and not others.

There is the expectation that after three months of weekly classes, each lasting for four hours, a student will have a good command of technique application in their work. The duration of the course is six months.

But what if you’ve always been lousy with art? Won’t this be seen as a major handicap in Kareem’s class?

“See this?” says Kareem pointing to Kim and Sunandhini’s work. “These ladies had no artistic background but they have managed to come up with these pieces,” he says proudly.

And considering that Kim has only been under Kareem’s tutelage for one and a half months, the effect, in this writer’s opinion, was not bad at all.

To sign up for Kareem’s class, you can contact the master batik artist himself at 019-241 3494 for a student assessment.


[More on Batik: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batik]

[picture: Batik Master Abdul Kareem Khadaied introducing salt crystals to a student’s work, a technique used in batik painting. Photo by Grace Chen]

1 comment:

irving said...

Just fascinating. I knew only vaguely of batik, and you have opened up another new world of knowledge, just a little shy of China :)

Ya Haqq!