Postcard from Bantul

Sunday, March 25, 2018

When I first arrived at Adi Sucipto International Airport, it was pouring rain but luckily I was being welcomed with open arms. Josh and Dewi were waiting for me at the arrival gate while holding a sign “Fransisca: Photographer”. I was scheduled to shoot and live with their family at a bamboo homestay they owned for an upcoming photo book featuring local family across Southeast Asia. It was during my overnight stay with them two years ago, I was being introduced to a lively neighborhood filled with artisans of any kind; from pottery, woodworker, hand-loom textile, sculptor, to silversmithing. I was beyond grateful to be back again!

For the people of Bantul, their craft is their home. It’s not merely only a place, but also a closed community of family who devoted their life making things using their own hands while at the same time preserving the traditional Javanese craft for generations to come. I tend to always go back to Yogyakarta every now and then to simply immerse in the slow-paced life. The day feels much longer there. This time was no different, I spent almost one week in this southern part of Yogyakarta, taking it all in. Here’s a glimpse of my encounters with the people and their craft that I meet along the way.

The last day before my departure, after sending her four children to school. I jumped in the backseat of Dewi’s motorcycle and went to explore Bantul’s hidden gem for the last time. We started our adventure visiting Yogyakarta’s very own traditional handloom fabric workshop, the cloth is well known as Lurik. What distinguished Lurik from other types of Indonesian textiles is the repetitive small striped motifs. It has traditionally been a typical rural outfit among Javanese tribes until now. What caught my attention the most was the workers who mostly are in their 50s – 60s. Looking at them, all I could think of was they could be everyone’s grandparents.

That afternoon I got to chat with the owner, Bapak Sulis, and learned what makes Lurik special is how diverse types of the motifs represent a different area as well as social status. For example, the Kraton’ (royal palace) guardians and caretakers or usually known as Abdi Dalem has their own Lurik motif and color, it is dark blue with simple black stripes. Also, the fact that it takes from one to two months to finish one piece of Lurik cloth simply because it’s all handmade is precious.

The sun has reached its peak hour and Dewi just knew what I needed, she brought me to Ngasem traditional market for some snacks. While being overwhelmed with the selection of Javanese snacks, I finally spent my penny to buy Kue Pancong, a traditional cake made from rice flour, sugar, and coconut. After a while, I noticed a rather lovely sight from the sellers. They all wore the same uniform that day, a pink Lurik that was tailored made as a Javanese top. It turns out that they were celebrating Kamis pahing (Kamis means Thursday and Pahing are based on a Javanese calendar). It is mandatory for employers to wear a traditional outfit once in every 35 days. Not only as a way to keep the tradition alive but also to honor the day when the royal palace was being relocated from the west side of Yogyakarta to where it is in the present day. That afternoon, I knew why I always come back to Yogyakarta. The small city is capable to reconnect me with my roots as an Indonesian, living in a country that is so diverse with traditions and cultures. For the local people, they treat their work not as life goals, but rather as a way of living.

The process of making Lurik motifs for Kraton Palace


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