Oscar Lawalata Culture, the Indonesian Batik Foundation (YBI), and Rumah Pesona Kain jointly curated the exhibition entitled, “Batik for the World”, at the UNESCO HQ in Paris from 6-12 June 2018. A collection of 100 batik cloths were transported from various parts of Indonesia and exhibited on-site. Through colorful displays and discussions, the weeklong event offered a platform that increased awareness and appreciation of the cultural heritage of Indonesian batik on the local and international levels. Thus, its history, embedded cultural values, craftsmanship, and development along the maritime Silk Roads were highlighted. In addition, visitors could partake in informal workshops, where they were able to witness the batik-making process involving “malam” (hot, liquid wax), “canting” (copper wax pen with a bamboo handle), “wajan” (liquid wax receptacle), and other tools used by skilled artisans who help to promote its safeguarding. Moreover, the exhibition showcased batik textile creations by contemporary designers Oscar Lawalata, Edward Hutabarat and Denny Wirawan during a fashion show that celebrated the diversity of Indonesian regions, batik processing methods, natural coloring, embroidery, and fabrics.
Indonesian batik was added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list in 2009, and has been internationally recognized as an historical fabric of human civilization. It is thought to be over 1000 years old, with historical evidence pointing to its use in parts of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Although the actual origins of batik are unknown, it is believed to have been transported to Asia by way of the Indian subcontinent. “Batik” is derived from an Indonesian-malay word, which is now often used as a generic term referring to the process of dyeing fabric. The process is traditionally performed on cotton and silk using a resist technique. This includes covering areas of cloth with a dye-resistant substance in order to prevent color absorption. Those areas not covered are able to absorb deep hues. Thus, the fabric is both durable and fade-resistant. Other batik methods also exist, such as the splash method, the screen printing process, and the hand-painting methods.
Batik is considered to have reached the height of its artistic expression in Java during the 19th century. Recognizable motifs, patterns, and colors often designated family, social status, and geographic origin. Traditional colors for Central Javanese batik were made from natural ingredients, and consisted primarily of blue, brown, beige, and black. Some designs include Kawung, or intersecting circles, Ceplok, geometric designs, Parang, or “knife pattern”, and Prada cloth, a batik decorated with gold leaf or gold dust. These prints were inspired by Japanese, Indian, Chinese, and Dutch influence, which resulted in the richness of the color and motifs. The art of batik later spread to the rest of the Indonesian archipelago, and then to the Malay Peninsula. Due to its popularity, more production centers were subsequently created. Although most batik fabric is now decorated and tailored by machine, there is still a desire for traditional textiles that are of the highest quality and hand-made. Today, skilled artisans, educational programs like those initiated in 2005 by the Batik Museum in Pekalongan City, Indonesia, as well as similar exhibitions, continue to transmit batik cultural heritage, which helps preserve its maritime Silk Roads legacy.
Regional differences, socio-economic and political factors, cultural variations, and climate all had a direct effect on clothing choices for those who lived throughout the expansive Silk Roads areas. Scholars, aristocrats, government officials, craftsmen, and farmers adopted a manner of dress appropriate for their immediate environment in medieval Central Asia. Although sparse, historical information regarding dress in the Eastern Islamic lands was usually provided by writers, geographers, and travelers. Differences in the style, finish, and quantity of materials were apparent in clothing of the rich and poor. During this time, Khurasan was a renowned center for silk, wool, and cotton textiles, while Nishapur was noted for its cotton cloth, scarves, and turbans that were often exported to Iraq and Egypt. In some societies, felt was used to make cloaks, saddlecloths, and rain hats. Moreover, the fur of sables, grey squirrels, ermines, and other animals were essential materials for garments, for the Mongols, the Turks of the steppes, as well as dignitaries in Persia. Similar to present day, Mongols in the 13th century wore a soft material belt wrapped tightly around the waist. This served as an unstiffened corset, helping to maintain posture while horse riding during long journeys.
The oldest piece of silk from this region originated in the Samanid period, and was woven for a ruler in Khurasan. The transnational fluidity of ideas, concepts, and savoir-faire is evident with the presentation of articles from Khurasan to the Harun al-Rashid (786-809) court in Bagdad. These tribute items included silk clothing, white robes, and head coverings, amongst others. Individuals belonging to a higher social class often wore clothing made of silk, wool, and expensive furs, while those of the lower classes would possibly use heavy outer coats made from dog or goatskins, lined with linen or cotton. Mongol women wore long trousers under their sack-like garments, and tall, basket-like hats covered with a piece of cloth. Married women wore a type of kaftan (“nemreg”) that was wide and slit in front down to the ground. During the ninth century, wealthy merchants often wore the “taylasan” (a head-shawl whose end did not fall below the chin). However, the lower classes did not wear this garment. Cooks wore garments resembling boiler suits, traders and artisans wore loose-fitting garments, and farmers wore thick cotton dresses with colorful turbans. “Muhtasibs” (municipal inspectors) monitored the state and cleanliness of dress. Most towns had their textile specialties, such as “mulham”, the half-silk cloth of Merv. Bukhara, with its famed weaving factories, produced various kinds of silk cloth, known as “Bukhari”. This fabric was heavy, strong, and often bought in large quantities by international communities.
Cloth-making required specific skills, such as the ability to process the hides, manufacture thread, and a knowledge of stitching techniques. Products obtained from livestock remained the primary raw material of the craft industries. Sheep’s wool was used to manufacture felt, while belts, harnesses, headgear, clothing, and footwear were made from the skins of domesticated livestock. In nomadic societies, herders generally only made items that met immediate requirements related to climate, lifestyle, and transience, such as “bogtogs”, or headdresses. Although successors of Genghis Khan wore gold-woven robes, sometimes embellished with precious jewels, pearls, and gold, previous dress had consisted mainly of animal skins. Sack-like garments that were loose on the left side, and tied at the shoulder on the right side, were common. The “deli”, a robe with seamless shoulders, is an example. Although the concept remains the same, “delis”, as well as many other garments from the Silk Roads that date from the 10th to 13th centuries, have continued to evolve and gain complexity, while maintaining their unique characteristics.
Although intercultural exchanges involving tea developed between European ports, such as those in Portugal, and the Far East from 16th century onwards, tea-drinking is believed to have it origins rooted in southern Asia, dating to the Han period. It was first used as a medicinal elixir concocted from untreated green leaves. However, by the T’ang period, tea was enjoyed as a refreshing beverage, prepared from leaves that had been moistened and formed into a dense mold. Anecdotes dating to the 8th century reveal how the city of Chang-an had a flourishing number of tea shops, and many touted the health benefits of tea rather than wine.
These intercultural exchanges were the direct result of the expansive network of maritime and land routes that explorers, missionaries, physicians actively travelled across. By embarking on such journeys, they were also able to transmit elements of Western culture to the Far East, which were later transformed and reconceptualized by those regions, according to their specific aesthetic preferences. As a result of this transnational fluidity between diverse regions and populations along the Silk Roads, significant sociocultural imprints and innovative developments related to tea consumption eventually appeared in the West. Such activity permitted the free flow of ideas, goods, and concepts – the effects of which are still experienced internationally throughout contemporary society.
Dynamic exchanges and sociocultural developments concerning tea were often closely associated with everyday life, daily rituals, spirituality, and community. In some cases, consuming tea was even associated with the Taoist notions involving extraordinary psychic-spiritual and physical effects. Therefore, tea soon made an entrance into creative spheres, including poetry and literature. As a result, its popularity quickly rose throughout the Far East, with poets and artists writing about the pleasures of tea, tea customs, and traditions.
Thus, an aesthetic culture developed around tea-drinking, and achieved a considerable amount of notoriety, especially in medieval Japan in the 14th and 15th centuries. Artists such as Murata Shuko, Takeno Joo, and Sen Rikyu developed a particular approach that was characterized by the term “wabi”, or frugality. The art of the “wabi” tea ceremony, or “chado” (“the way of tea”), was borne out of a synthesis of various Japanese aesthetic and religious traditions. Over time, it continued to exert its influence on intercultural dialogue and exchanges. The art of tea was not only passed down through generations, but it was diffused to the West and across various continents. The powerful sociocultural elements embedded in tea were due to its ability to develop and solidify community bonds.
Tea was first exported from Macau through Malacca. It then passed from Manila to the Indian sub-continent before reaching the West. Cultures and regions around the world have continued to adapt the ubiquitous product according to their own societal norms. Similar to that of the Chinese culture, tea is often associated with pre-engagement rituals between a future bride and groom. The British and Dutch also incorporated the beverage into their lifestyles, where it developed connotations linked to hospitality, mutual understanding, local tradition, and community. Bento de Gois, Italian missionary, Sabatino de Ursis, and Italian cartographer, Matteo Ricci are examples of individuals during the 16th and 17th centuries who actively explored unknown regions in the Far East in order to gather knowledge, understanding, and appreciation. Their experiences abroad were later transmitted and incorporated into elements of western society and traditions.
Moreover, in the Portuguese language, “cha” is derived from the Cantonese pronunciation of the word, while “tha” and “tea” are derivatives of the Fukinese dialect. The transcendent power of tea as a beverage and renowned universal concept, is visibly translated in old teas salons on Rua Nova de El-Rei (also known as Avenida do Cinco de Outubro), as well as houses typical to Macau. These tea salons referenced Mediterranean urban structures, built around squares and cobblestoned streets, and were reminiscent of European cities. Thus, the transmission of tea to other regions of the world was possible due to the cultural significance it carried, both as a product and a concept. Positive connotations associated with tea and its benefits still exist in contemporary society, due to the active exchange of ideas, concepts, and goods along the Silk Roads, and beyond.
The active exchange of goods, ideas, and expertise has played a significant role in the evolution of sericulture, or silk production, along the Silk Roads. This is reflected in distinctive artistic styles and craftsmanship that has continued to spread throughout various regions. The textile was so valued, it is said that by the 4th century BC, Greeks and Romans began referring to parts of the Far East as the land of “Seres”, or silk. Moreover, sericulture techniques were heavily guarded and controlled by authorities. Silk was considered a precious textile that was reserved for the aristocracy, and its use was emblematic of authority and power. The textile was preferred by royal families, and its weavers enjoyed an elevated social status comparable to that of painters or sculptors. During the Han and Tang dynasties, the absolute value of silk increased, as well as its production. Due to its versatility and popularity, silk gradually became identified with general use. Clothing made of silk is characteristically lightweight and ethereal, providing warmth in cool temperatures, and relief in hotter temperatures. Not only was it used for clothing production and decoration in the Far East, but it also assumed cultural significance in the economy as a highly sought, valuable commodity.
During silk production, silk threads are woven into textile cloth or used for embroidery work. Literary sources such as The Book of History and The Book of Rites detail aspects of sericulture. Reeling silk and spinning were household duties attributed to women, while weaving and embroidery were often conducted in workshops. In silk-producing provinces, the intergenerational aspect was apparent. Women devoted a large portion of the year to care of the silkworms, as well as to the unraveling, spinning, weaving, dyeing, and embroidery of the silk. Initially, production of both silk twine and silk cloth could be attributed solely to those in the Far East.
However, around 300 CE, the production of silk twine appeared in regions as far west as the Roman province of Syria, created during the Roman Empire (27 BC – 393 CE). It was here that the Sasanian, Shapur II (310-379 CE), established the most influential silk-weaving industry. From 224-651 CE, the Sasanians exerted significant influence in the world, and their expansion caused considerable conflict in Rome. The Sasanian region was an expansive area, recognized for its expert weavers, especially in cities such as Susa, which is located in modern Iran. Sasanian silks were then exported to both the East and West, by way of maritime and terrestrial routes. Those textiles originating in the Far East and Indian sub-continent, where silk-producing centers also appeared, inspired their designs. These designs were then incorporated into local textile patterns according to aesthetic preferences. Conversely, weavers originating from the Far East borrowed Sasanian motifs, thus transforming and recontextualizing the designs into their own culture.
Weavers from Byzantium, who considered themselves inheritors of the ancient Roman Empire, exhibited a similar trend. These Byzantine weavers generally hailed from cities such as Constantinople and Antioch. Two main types of silk weaving patterns were produced. The first was based on hunting or battle scenes, while the latter was comprised of a series of circles enveloping birds and other small animals. A Byzantine silk fragment from the tomb of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charlemagne (742-814), incorporates both of these graphic designs. The burgeoning Byzantine textile industry subsequently led to the spread of silk weaving even further west. Roger II of Sicily (1095-1154) introduced silk weavers from Constantinople to Palermo in the 12th century.
As a result of this act, the Italian silk industry was borne, and still exists. Moreover, during Pax Mongolia, silk textiles emanating from the Far East were ubiquitous throughout the region now known as Italy. This was apparent with the juxtaposition and visible translation of Italian designs with Far Eastern influences onto luxurious textiles. The resultant patterns encapsulated a greater degree of fluidity and boldness. In addition, the appearance of heraldic animals typical of the Sasanian style decreased, while flourishing arabesque ornamentation and scrawling vegetation were adapted from Far Eastern designs.
Moreover, the UNESCO World Heritage site, La Lonja de la Seda (Silk Exchange) in Valencia, Spain, built from 1482-1522, assumed a pronounced role in the evolution of sericulture. Emblematic of the power and wealth associated with the Mediterranean mercantile city in the 15th and 16th centuries, it was originally used for trading in silk, and renowned as a center of commerce. In contemporary society, the production of silk worldwide has steadily increased, especially in the Far East, despite the manufacture of synthetic textiles that are able to substitute its use. Regional variations of silk weaving exist, but the transmission of savoir-faire, knowledge, and expertise from one generation to the next allow these techniques to be disseminated throughout local and international communities along the Silk Roads, even today.
I met Russian artist Oleg Sheludyakov (b. 1971) while we were both living in Berlin, Germany several years ago. His gentle, unassuming nature complemented the intensity of his gaze, revealing a highly intuitive, introspective individual whose visual language matches his intellectualism. As a friend and avid supporter, I have followed his artistic journey and continue to remain inspired by his ability to evolve. The artist currently resides in Marseille, France. His work was recently part of the Yellow Butterfly Effect exhibition in his Siberian hometown of Novosibirsk, Russia.
I asked Sheludyakov to describe when he decided to embark on this particular journey, and it would seem that he was always destined to become a professional painter. In 1977 his parents enrolled him in Kaleidoscope Fine Art School for children. He recounted with nostalgia being completely enchanted by the ambiance of the atelier with its fresh smell of paint, life-like plaster models, magical paint brushes, colorful palettes, and a profusion of art history books – a veritable Paradise on Earth. It was during these formative years that Sheludyakov decided to embark on a non-traditional professional path.
The artist’s trajectory has been susceptible to frequent oscillations and shifts in forward momentum. However, it has never diverged far from its intended course. At the age of 17, he began his studies in architecture at the Novosibirsk Engineering Institute and later graduated with a degree in Philosophy and Humanities from Novosibirsk State University in 1995. He then studied monumental painting at Novosibirsk Fine Arts and Architectural Academy and drawing at the Fine Arts Academy in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
Sheludyakov’s paintings clearly reflect his Russian sensibilities lightly dusted with French influences – a charming combination which reinforces the enigmatic nature of his work and clearly distinguishes him from other contemporary artists. Over the years, the prolific painter has capitalized on a vast artistic repertoire and solid work ethic. His work is deeply personal, reflecting profound intellectual and artistic growth.
The artist’s signature work reflects a very specific iconography and complex visual lexicon, with extensive references to his native Russia. He has masterfully implemented particular subjects, images, and applied techniques which faithfully appear as leitmotif. The nu féminin (female nudes), seaside and urban landscapes, nautical themes, music, animals and a profusion of cobalt blue throughout are primary examples.
With half of his international clientele preferring the nu féminin, Sheludyakov’s work is constantly evolving and reflects a deep appreciation of the female form. This fact intrigued me, and I was interested in the specific demographics of those who purchase his nu féminin. External variables such as age, nationality, and profession vary widely – from students to investment bankers. Sensitive to feminine beauty, Russians tend to be the most frequent buyers, followed by Germans, French, and Americans, who often purchase his most expensive works.
Subject, style, color palette, and technique afford a clear, visible translation of human emotion and themes. The vast spectrum may range from pure, gentle and harmonious to somber, expressive, and frenetic. With a large percentage of his work explicitly devoted to the creation of the nu féminin, I was curious as to origins of this admiration. His response was both philosophical and poetic. The artist believes very few things rival the ethereal beauty of this particular genre. He is careful to define beauty within the realm of abstract or conceptual theories. By respecting the boundaries between intangibility and physicality during the creative process, Sheludyakov is able to explore the origins of beauty, grace, femininity, elegance, harmony, and sensuality without restraint. The question remains as to how Sheludyakov chooses his models. Selection of nude models is surprisingly uncomplicated — acquaintances, friends, or family members, for example. It is simply a matter of identifying specific traits unique to each individual, and then accurately translating those traits into a cohesive image.
Sheludyakov only has one exception: professional models. Through experience, their body has become a logical, physical tool which remains distinctly detached from their authentic self. This ultimately limits emotional emancipation and decreases the possibility of unveiling the true, feminine essence. Although this degree of professionalism is highly admirable, the artist prefers the innocence of amateur models. Sheludyakov is known to be a prolific painter, so I asked about the duration of the entire process. He stated that creative processes vary from beginning to end. For example, the technical aspects of creating a nu féminin are somewhat similar to that of painting landscapes or producing images from the imagination.
However, the existential journey inherent to the production of a nu féminin is unrivalled due to lasting emotional bonds between subject and painter; painter and canvas. Commissioning live models facilitates the creative process by guiding line, form, and volume. It is important to remain vigilant so as to avoid producing flat, naturalistic work. Thus, understanding the difference between the physicality of form and a more profound, metaphysical side is essential.
The same holds true for landscapes. The immediate perception of colors, interpretation, and subsequent translation of experiences is more powerful during the plein-air painting process. Sheludyakov attempts to expedite the entire process in order to retain a certain freshness and spontaneity. For acrylic works, three to four days is sufficient. However, oil paintings require more finesse, averaging approximately ten days.
Once the paintings are finished, Sheludyakov lovingly releases them to the public with an open heart. When asked to define an exceptional painting, in general, the artist confidently stated that a true chef-d’oeuvre is the antithesis of indifference because it evokes admiration and encourages reflection. This type of work reaches deep emotional depths of the spectator and ultimately has the power to inspire others.
I recently obtained my third Master of Arts degree in Global Communications from the American University of Paris, and I have conducted extensive doctoral research about the effects of globalization on the Opéra national de Paris, so I was curious as to how the current international climate has personally affected Sheludyakov. It is evident that the globalized economy has transformed the art market, artists, and artistic production.
The notion of evolution is a salient topic which artists cannot ignore. Remaining in an isolated sphere is no longer a viable option or lucrative alternative. Sheludyakov is clearly aware of this paradigm shift in contemporary society and adopts a philosophical approach. Since creativity does not exist in a vacuum, artistic evolution is directly linked to inevitable transformation, active exploration, and ultimate change defined within the context of relevant sociocultural parameters – even if this approach may sometimes lead to an impasse.
Unfortunately, the sale of Sheludyakov paintings has suffered due to globalization and the inevitable democratization of the art market. Throughout the 1990’s until the early 2000’s, there was a strong appreciation for Russian contemporary artists. Since then, interest in Russian art has decreased significantly. In addition, the internet is saturated with artists of every genre, rendering it difficult to clearly differentiate one’s brand. Fortunately, Sheludyakov has maintained a close circle of faithful collectors and gallerists over the years. This is partially due to a resistance to short-term trends, increased online visibility that has been carefully nurtured, and complete confidence in the creative process.
Karl Lagerfeld and the Opéra national de Paris: A multi-sensorial, artistic collaboration
The haute couture ballet costumes and set design for George Balanchine’s Brahms-Schönberg Quartet were created by Karl Lagerfeld for the Opéra national de Paris. Renowned dancers Bart Cook and Maria Calegari served as the choreographers, and I acted as the cultural liaison and assistant to choreographers, artists, and directors. The luxurious costumes reflect an innovative, collaborative approach to fashion in the rapidly evolving globalized community. Moreover, they fully activate the five senses while providing elements of fantasy of a bygone era. For, “There will never be a world without fantasy, which expresses the unconscious unfulfilled” (S. Kaiser, 1997).
This is an essential point, since art, fashion, and culture inhabit the same multi-sensorial landscape. They represent a constantly evolving visual language which must be effectively transmitted to spectators. Inaugurated in 1875, the OnP formerly represented an elitist Parisian society. The institution was historically linked to utopian images of wealth, power, prestige, and elegance. Therefore, Lagerfeld’s costume designs for each of Balanchine’s four acts needed to the encapsulate the Zeitgeit of the OnP. That essence was effectively transmitted through a consistent visual theme involving textures, costume accessories, and classical ballet silhouettes. A muted color palette of white, pale pink, and crème-orange created a bold visual juxtaposition with the monochromatic interjection of black and white details and piping. Traditionally feminine elements and curvilinear shapes were visible with velvet headpieces and armbands, satin ribbons, tulle/chiffon tutus, and bejeweled caps. These contrasted the straight lines and geometrical shapes traditionally considered masculine.
Lagerfeld conceptualized various sketches which were inspired by the Vienna Secession, an artistic movement established in 1897. Costumes were skillfully constructed in the OnP couture atelier according to Lagerfeld’s initial artistic intentions, but still allowed for subsequent modifications and adjustments of material, fabric, and accessories. Thus, costumes were individually adapted to each ballet dancer, taking into consideration rigorous choreographic maneuvers. They also accounted for other variables including lighting, sound, and stage conditions. This resulted in the creation of regal, yet fashionable costumes which contributed to the multi-sensorial landscape while integrating an advanced degree of technological innovation and functionality.
Lagerfeld’s extensive research resulted in the creation of tailored men’s black and white suede waistcoats, as well as folklore-inspired, embroidered headdresses. The women’s costumes included black and white bodices with princess seams in satin and velvet attached to voluminous tutus constructed of pink, orange, and white tulle/chiffon. Use of luxurious fabrics and detailed embroidery created a sophisticated, glamorous environment of classic, understated elegance. It also alluded to a previous era where clothing was symbolic of an individual’s social status and morality – whether actual or contrived. Lagerfeld’s set design purposefully evoked an ancient palace adorned with heavy, gray, floor-length drapery. This contrasted the color palette and texture of the costumes. Such an atmosphere was meant to reference the waning splendor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Artistic collaborations between the French heritage institution and fashion have steadily increased in the globalized economy. The OnP has hosted a variety of cultural events and fashion shows such as Stella McCartney and Dries van Noten. Moreover, the OnP has collaborated with renowned fashion designers including Christian Lacroix for George Balanchine’s Le Palais de cristal, and Yves Saint-Laurent for Roland Petit’s Notre-Dame de Paris. Recently, it has begun collaborative efforts with contemporary, avant-garde fashion designers such as Iris van Herpen for Benjamin Millepied’s Clear, Loud, Bright, Forward, Alessandro Sartori for Millepied’s La nuit s’achève, and Mary Katranzou for Justin Peck’s Entre chien et loup.