Textile Testimonies: LDS Indonesian Batiks


“I was excited when I first heard about an Indonesian batik of the First Vision! I knew the artist had to be a Latter-day Saint because of the subject matter,” says Richard Oreart, a curator at the Museum of Church History and Art, speaking of the museum’s exhibit of batiks (dyed-fabric artwork). “But when I learned that the artist, Hadi Pranoto, lived in Yogyakarta—the center of Indonesian batik making—and worked in the Aidiyanto Batik Studio, one of the finest studios in Yogyakarta, I was thrilled!”

Latter-day Saint Batik Makers

Hadi Pranoto is one of the 3,600 Latter-day Saints in Indonesia. The former president of the Yogyakarta Branch, Brother Pranoto joined the Church with his wife and five children in 1975. “I could feel the spirit of the gospel when I walked into the Pranotos’ white stucco home,” continues Richard Oman. “A picture of the President of the Church hung on the wall, and a family home evening manual in the Indonesian language lay on the table.”

The Church is small but growing in Indonesia, a nation of almost two hundred million people and nearly fourteen thousand islands. Most of the Indonesian Saints live on the densely populated island of Java, with its eighty million residents. Several branches of the Church are located in the cities of Yogyakarta and Solo in central Java.

“Both Yogyakarta and Solo were centers of ancient Javanese civilization. Dance, music, and visual arts are strong there. Members of the Church in these cities bring a cultural and artistic background with them,” says Steven Epperson, co-curator with Brother Oman of the Church museum’s exhibit featuring batiks created by Indonesian Latter-day Saints. “Among these Church members are some artists of very high rank, including Hadi Pranoto and his son-in-law Joni Susanto.”

Universal Latter-day Saint Themes

Batiks are created through a complex process using the principle that waxed cloth resists dye. Intricate patterns and exquisite colors are the result. An expert batik maker, Hadi Pranoto used this art form to express his testimony of the First Vision. But other Indonesian Latter-day Saint artists have also made batiks centered on similar Latter-day Saint themes: Moroni with the golden plates, Joseph Smith standing near the Nauvoo Temple, and the restoration of the priesthood.

“It is wonderful to see that Latter-day Saint themes are transferable between cultures and artistic mediums,” continues Brother Epperson. “Testimony and cultural style come together in this traditional art form and add a rich dimension to the collection of Latter-day Saint art, serving as an example of what the future holds for the Church.”

Linking Generations

The spirit of linking families together eternally, so prevalent in the gospel, is already a part of the thinking and life-style of Indonesian artists. As a third-generation batik maker, Hadi Pranoto not only shares his technical skills with his son-in-law, but he also shares a strong sense of bonding between generations.

“This tradition of bonding is a vital part of the folk arts,” says Brother Oman. “It forges links between the generations instead of fracturing links, as often happens in the fine arts when artists feel they must break away from the past to be successful. This folk tradition of unity and bonding is one of the gifts Indonesian Saints bring to the rest of the Church.”

A Renaissance Atmosphere

Brother Pranoto and Joni Susanto work in the Aidiyanto Batik Studio. Representative of batik workshops, this workplace has an atmosphere more like a Renaissance studio than a factory. Several artists work on a variety of batiks, performing the steps best suited to their individual skills.

Batiks are generally made from two yards of cotton or silk fabric. The process involves several major steps. First, the fabric is prepared and a design is drawn on it in pencil. Second, using a penlike tool called a canting, hot wax is applied to the sections of the fabric that are not to be dyed. Third, the fabric is placed in a vat of cool dye until the desired shade of that particular color is achieved. Fourth, the fabric is dried, and the wax is removed by using heat. The waxing and dyeing steps of the process are repeated as often as necessary until the artists achieve the desired combination of design and color.

Hadi Pranoto and Joni Susanto’s batiks are representational in their design, making the subject matter easily recognizable. By contrast, a traditional batik’s design is an abstract pattern of twisting vines, exotic flowers, prancing animals, bold geometric designs, or delicately webbed shapes. However, artists of both styles splash the same rich hues of indigo, deep red, yellow, and Javanese brown across the fabric, resulting in shimmering patterns of vibrant colors. But for these Indonesian Latter-day Saint artists, batiks are more than an art form—they are a means of sharing their testimonies.

The Second Coming of Christ

Folk artists often recreate original art in another media. Such is the case with Hadi Pranoto, whose batik, The Second Coming of Christ (34 3/4″ x 36″), is based on a painting by Harry Anderson.

Joseph Smith and the Nauvoo Temple

Joseph Smith and the Nauvoo Temple (36″ x 37″) by Hadi Pranoto is based on a painting by Harold T. (Dale) Kilbourn.

President Spencer W. Kimball

President Spencer W. Kimball (36″ x 37 1/2″) by Hadi Pranoto. Revelation from God is often the subject of batiks by these Indonesian artists. Prophets are viewed with the greatest of respect.

Missionaries on Bicycles

Missionaries on Bicycles (36″ x 47 1/2″) by Hadi Pranoto. Indonesians are impressed when they see missionaries in white shirts and ties (regarded as a mark of the upper class) on bicycles (the transportation of the common people).

Doctrine and Covenants, Chapter Four(click to view larger)

Doctrine and Covenants, Chapter Four (65 1/2″ x 88″) by Joni Susanto. Its full text, which encourages missionaries to serve, is reproduced here. Originally, Brother Susanto thought of doing the entire standard works in batik.

The Chapel at Yogyakarta

The Chapel at Yogyakarta (36″ x 47″) by Hadi Pranoto. Batiks featuring Latter-day Saint themes show that other cultures can be grafted into the mainstream of the Church without diluting their cultural uniqueness.

The First Vision

The First Vision (29 1/2″ x 35 1/2″) by Joni Susanto. This batik, with its intrinsic quality of movement and color, seeks to capture the spiritual nature of the heavenly manifestation.

[photos] Photography courtesy of the Museum of Church History and Art

[photo] Latter-day Saint artist Joni Susanto.

[photo] Hadi Pranoto dips fabric into a vat of dye.