Coffin cover or hanging
Indonesia, Sumatra, Bengkulu, c. 1940
Commercial cotton and dye, hand-drawn batik (tulis)
A graphic dark blue Batik Tulisan Arab hand-drawn with the hallmark design of the genre of zoomorphic calligraphic figures. 3 squares containing calligraphic script are each surrounded by four birds that seem to be formed by the coalescing of the calligraphy. Large and imposing, they are drawn with vigorous expressive strokes, with wing and tail feathers and legs composed in calligraphic lines, and show a great deal of subtle variation of decoration and form within their overall symmetry (for instance the different internal decoration of the wings in the top right and left birds). The intervening spaces are filled with further calligraphic script that creates a flowing, vigorous graphic pattern. Small flowers scattered over the ground represent bintang (“stars”) shining in the sky of the sacred design. The centerfield is framed along the short ends by the traditional 3-fold borders.
Context: Batik Tulisan Arab (or Batik Kaligrafi) developed on the north-eastern coast of Java and in Sumatra as a type of sacred cloth with talismanic power. The birds are a convention of this type of batik, apparently growing out of and metamorphosing from calligraphic script. However, less important than the content of the script is the text itself—Kerlogue writes that those who are not able to read it are still able to recognize the power and presence of Allah in the inscription, and the beauty and skill with which the calligraphy is embellished expresses the reverence in which the Word is held. In this sense, the calligraphic motifs served not as communication but as a symbolic affirmation of faith (124-135).
Condition: The piece is in excellent condition, with no stains, tears or holes. The blue is dark, and the white is creamy beige. The cotton is soft and fine.
Dimensions: 220 x 112 cm.