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Museum Musings: Fashioning Batik at Asian Civilisations Museum

The Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) is fast becoming our local fashion museum, with their new exhibition Fashioning Batik. At the exhibition, the public can see an even wider variety of batik fashion on display at the ACM. Presented by the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) and Indonesian batik powerhouse BINhouse, Fashioning Batik is an experimental contemporary fashion showcase that explores innovative contemporary expressions of batik menswear between established maker and emerging designers. 

The capsule collection by six students from the Diploma in Fashion Design programme at NAFA is titled Reframing Batik – Modernity with Tradition. Drawing inspiration from the “tik” in batik, which means “dot”, the collection features dot reiterations, textile manipulations, and accessories to contextualise batik for the modern-day.

The NAFA-BINhouse Men’s Collection evokes a splendid and versatile batik world that is suitable for all occasions, running the gamut from lounge and poolside to office meeting room. The 32 contemporary batik menswear designs on display sought inspiration from, yet deliberately broke away from traditional batik silhouettes and applications. Conceptualised by students and graduates of NAFA, the distinctive handmade fabrics generously provided by BINhouse are transformed into a diverse range of novel fashion interpretations. The result is a showcase that redefines batik for the everyday man and audiences with contemporary inclinations.

Max Tan’s “Pride Wear” collection confidently walks the line between unexpected contrasts, making a sartorial statement inspired by the traditional fabric form. This is the first time Max is creating original designs from batik, and he has chosen to maximise the use of the batik fabrics, a break away from his minimalist practice.

Fashioning Batik offers an opportunity for audiences to encounter innovation in tradition, as they come up-close with new textures, materials and motifs that are atypical of traditional batik textiles. As an extension of ACM’s ongoing special exhibition Batik Kita: Dressing in Port Cities, the showcase pushes the envelope of what batik fashion is and can be for audiences in Singapore and Southeast Asia.

“浮 Fu” by leather craftsperson Chin Shiying is an experiment to explore the fluid juxtaposition of blending the toughness of leather with soft batik silks. Many pieces in this collection were handcrafted to complement the craftsmanship seen in the batik designs, with fishermen in boats as an added inspiration.

Casting a spotlight on locally groomed talent, the showcase features capsule collections that offer a unique perspective into batik, minted with the individual fortes and styles of the designers who come from various backgrounds. The showcase features designs by current students of the NAFA Diploma in Fashion Studies programme, as well as one-of-a-kind pieces by fashion designer Max Tan, textile artist Tan Cheryl, leathersmith Chin Shiying, and menswear designer Fedri. These designers are bold in their use of batik fabrics and surprising style interventions. They incorporate materials such as lycra spandex, wool blend tweed, vegetable-tanned calf leather and printed voile to create everyday looks that are just as ready for the fashion runway.

Fedri’s “RetrobatiQ” collection combines Indonesia’s alluring batik patterns with elements like bright colours and 8-bit images to introduce a pop of youthfulness. The pieces are topped off with heat transferred print and applique to produce a layering effect with the batik.

Fashioning Batik is the latest endeavour at ACM that champions cross-cultural design, partnering with the wider fashion community to tell the rich, cosmopolitan heritage of Singapore and the region through batik. It marks the first partnership between the museum and NAFA in the fashion realm. In conjunction with the launch of the NAFA-BINhouse Men’s Collection, ACM will present two in-depth panel sessions on 6 August that will explore topics like designing new silhouettes with batik, the how-tos, challenges, and prospects of seeing more batik fashion. 

Chapalang Camp” by Tan Cheryl is a craft-centric collection of garments. Inserting her practice as Beadbadwolf into batik, Cheryl combines craft techniques like embroidery, tufting and crocheting to present a contemporary take on batik.

Photo Credit: Asian Civilisations Museum

Fashioning Batik runs from 5th August to 2nd October 2022 at the ACM Foyer on Level 2. Admission is free. More information available here

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