Monday, 23 October 2017

Malaysian textile artist Fatimah Chik innovates and inspires

Celebrated Malaysian artist Fatimah Chik kneels on the living room floor in her tiny apartment in Kuala Lumpur. She slowly unrolls a length of cloth from its covering of white paper. Bit by bit, the glowing, intricate batik motifs are revealed.
The white paper seems woefully inadequate as protection for the precious piece; one of the few of her early works that are still in her possession. Most of her work is in private and corporate collections, museums, and galleries, in Malaysia and abroad. She can’t remember the exact date this piece was created, but thinks it was around 1980 or so.
Across town, three of her batik paintings, representative of 45 years of artistic creation and innovation, are featured in Love Me in My Batik: Modern Batik Art from Malaysia and Beyond, an exhibit running until June at the Ilham gallery. The gallery describes the exhibit as telling “the story of batik painting as a distinct modern art form that emerged in Malaysia and beyond from the 1950’s to the present day.”
Fatimah Chik at home in Kuala Lumpur
Ilham director, Rohan Joseph said “you can’t talk about Malaysian batik art without talking about Fatimah Chik. She occupies an important place in the retelling of the history of batik art. She definitely started a movement within the medium.”
I first met Fatimah at the Craft Complex in Kuala Lumpur in January. There was no breeze to stir the filmy lengths of brightly colored silk-chiffon hanging outside her studio while I waited in the shade for her to return from lunch.
Screeching mina birds disrupted the torpor of siesta as the bold geometric pattern of the tudung covering Fatimah's head appeared through the thick tropical foliage. She was followed closely by her pre-teen granddaughter, Malena.
While Fatimah showed me around the studio, Malena slung her lithe form, in jeans and a bright purple top, across a chair as artlessly as the silk chiffon pieces on the rack outside. She checked her grandmother’s phone. “Grandma, you have messages.”
Fatimah explained the batik process; how she stamps the fabric with hot wax and dips it in dye over and over until she accomplishes the effect she desires. She has added a signature twist to the traditional process by combining batik with shibori, an ancient Japanese tie-dye technique. She calls the marriage of methods, "shiboritik".
Fatimah and Malena took me to the drying rack outside the studio to show me their work. “You have to visualize first,” explained Fatimah. “Through your visualization, the final product is in your mind. It’s not on paper. It’s in your mind. I don’t plan anything. Everything is in my mind. So this is what I want. I want this kind of shape, like this diamond shape for this piece.”
Malena showed off a soft pink piece of fabric she’d been working on and in an outburst of youth-fueled confidence declared the technique “very easy, but you need patience as well.”
Fatimah was born on August 31, 1947 in Pontion, Johor, Malaysia. She had nine siblings; an even split between boys and girls. Her father was a telephone operator and her mother a fashion designer.
“My mother was so talented. She created traditional Malaysian clothing for all ages. She was known for her embroidery. My grandfather was a woodcarver. He built houses without nails. All the pieces fit together. The art was in my blood, but I just didn’t know it then.”
Art was the last thing on her mind when she entered the Mara Institute of Technology at the age of 20. “I wanted to do stenography,” she remembers. “It was a short course, I could be out earning a living in a year and a half.”
At that time, the institute was launching an applied arts program and recognizing that Fatimah had shown artistic promise in high school, they convinced her to enroll in the inaugural program.
“I didn’t know what applied arts meant,” she laughed. After six months of foundational training, she was given the opportunity to choose a speciality. She chose textile and fashion design, graduating in 1971 with a Bachelor of Design in Textile.
“I felt blessed because straight away after graduation I was offered a job at a batik research centre” she remembers. Her time there broadened her scope and she was introduced to the batik dye process. She continued to work as a textile designer. As recognition spread, she began to lecture at her alma mater, the Mara Institute of Technology.
Not long after graduation, she married her former art history professor, Redza Piyadasa. Piyadasa, who died in 2007, was a renowned artist, art critic and educator who is credited with initiating the debate on the national artistic identity of Malaysia.
Fatimah accompanied Piyadasa to Hawaii in 1974 where he would study at the University of Hawaii for two years. According to Chik, “that’s where it all began for me. It was there that I discovered myself and my cultural roots. I belonged to a much more diverse cultural group than I had realized,” she said, referring to the Nusantara archipelago that counts Malaysian among its islands.
In Hawaii, she found herself moving in circles of artists and art academics and began researching the Southeast Asian textile and motif traditions that would be strongly represented in her work from that time on. “These motifs, she said, “are signs and symbols and have their own philosophical and symbolical meanings of the world we live in.”
When she returned to Malaysia in 1977 she began to transfer her motif designs to batik blocks. She experimented with modifications of designs that held meaning for her. “It was during the eighties that I started the transition from batik as a craft to batik as fine art.”
Her work at that time was considered to be groundbreaking. Media attention and accolades followed as she exhibited nationally and internationally. “I didn’t have to try to sell my work then, she said. People were calling me and asking to buy it.”
During the 1990’s and into the 21st century, Fatimah was immersed in painting large serial pieces that incorporated batik collage. Rohan Joseph described these later career efforts as “an influential body of work.”
Throughout her artistic career, Fatimah maintained her role as an educator at the Mara Institute of Technology and later at the Malaysian Institute of Art. These days she teaches budding entrepreneurs at the Kuala Lumpur Craft Complex which is part artists’ village and part retail space that promotes the sale of Malaysian crafts.
The complex is run by Kraftangan Malaysia, the Malaysian Handicraft Development Corporation. She is collaborating with the organization on a project aimed at promoting the success of Malaysian craft entrepreneurs. As part of the project, entrepreneurs are using some of her signature batik designs on a variety of products from bags and shawls to tea sets.
Fatimah is venerated in the Malaysian art and fashion scene and her expertise is valued as a judge at competitions such as the Piala Seri Batik Design Competition in 2015.
She shares her apartment with her daughter and granddaughter. Malena is home from school today, sleeping late because she’s not feeling well.
Fatimah's art and batik fabric pieces cover the walls and her late husband’s books fill the shelves along a wall.
She’s pensive as she shares her carefully maintained collection of news clips and gallery catalogues with me. As she talks about her life, she is modest about her role as an icon, but clearly proud of her accomplishments. She mentions her late husband often, and with pride.
Fatimah looks puzzled when I ask her what’s next in her life. Then she smiles. “The same,” she says quietly. “I work, I survive.”
Re-posted with permission 
from Deborah Tobin

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Redang Chapter - May to October 2016

Celebrated batik artist Fatimah Chik returns to her roots, writes Aznim Ruhana Md Yusup
It's easy to get lulled by the soft breeze and clear turquoise waters of Teluk Kalong Kecil on Redang Island.
The bay, home to the Wisana Village resort, is sequestered from the island’s main beach, and it’s where you can spend hours whiling the time away.
But Wisana wants to do more than give visitors a slice of the idyllic island life. In 2015, it opened a small exhibition space called Tebeng Layar Gallery, bringing fine art to a place more known for its beaches and water sports.
This year, Tebeng Layar is exhibiting the works of batik artist Fatimah Chik. Redang Chapter explores her works from the past 30 years, showcasing pieces that include Nusantara Mandalara from 1989 to Gunungan (1994) and Kebaya Che Ros from 2004.
But more than just her art, Fatimah, 69, is preparing to share with islanders an art form named shiboritik. This is Japanese tie-and-dye and batik, and she believes it can be developed to become part of the island’s identity.
“Wisana was looking for something new to bring to Redang,” says Fatimah. “With my teaching and knowledge, this may be something that the community can call their own.”

Fatimah will hold a class on shibori from Sept 16 to 18. Previously a lecturer at the Malaysia Institute of Art before retiring last year, she also taught shiboritik at Institut Kraf Negara, but the approach in Redang will be a bit different.
Instead of art students, her audience will be islanders who are probably unfamiliar with either shibori or batik beyond wearing it.
One lesson she hopes to impart to them is the importance of craftsmanship, originality and authorial intent.
“There are many things to consider before we start making shibori. First, we must know how to fold. We have to calculate and estimate where and how we want the pattern to look like before we dip it in the dye,” says Fatimah.
But more importantly is the batik motif that will be stamped onto the shibori fabric. This block design(s) will have to be new and unique, and imbued with the things that are distinct to the island.
“When you have an idea or concept, you must do research,” she says. “The theme is Redang Island, so what is happening here? What’s on the island? What’s the identity?”
“Let’s not consider turtles because that’s standard for Terengganu. Maybe there’s a frog species that’s only found here. So you study its texture, compare the eyes and take the shape. You abstract ideas and come up with a block.”
There’s a size limitation to the block, which should not be bigger than 10 inches a side as it will be too heavy otherwise. Each wax stamping is done by hand, and the batik artisan must take care to apply the right pressure to avoid too much or too little of the wax getting onto the fabric.
“I used to be able to hold the block with one hand when I was younger,” says Fatimah. “Now I have to use both hands.”
Fatimah believes that shiboritik represents a progress from the batik with floral patterns as the norm. Such designs are not bad per se, but as a long-time judge for the Piala Seri Endon batik competition, she finds the current batik scene rather stagnant.
“Piala Seri Endon was set up to present batik to the world. This year’s competition will be the last for the time being; we will continue in 2018. We’ll do training camps next year. What the organisers have realised is that, after 14 years, there is no real progress, the winners are all the same,” she says.
Fatimah is keen to see Redang islanders make it to the competition in 2018. Such a recognition will surely raise their profile. The plan is to develop shiboritik into a cottage clothing industry, providing housewives and single mothers with a source of income.
But she won’t be doing it all by herself. Fatimah has an apprentice to help her with the heavy lifting while the team at Wisana will provide on-the-ground support. The resort, which was featured in the film, Redha, is founded and run by local Redang islanders and has close links with the community.
“When making a product like clothes, your concern is selling them,” says Fatimah. “When you’re making art, it’s about establishing your signature and identity. So clothes and art have different principles.”
She has no qualms about the switch. “My background is in fashion and textile design. As an artist, I use the fundamentals of batik with the concept of fine art. I spent the first 10 years as an artist figuring out how to do that. It was only when I was invited to show my pieces that I felt like I had figured it out.”
Last December she showed her artwork on a different stage, the catwalk, and debuted the Fatimah Chik collection at Kuala Lumpur Fashion Weekend. The venture was a collaboration with the Malaysian Handicraft Development Corporation and featured her batik pieces printed on clothes, accessories and tableware.
“For years I was with fine artists because I was married to one (the late Redza Piyadasa). I stopped doing fashion and design. It’s only now that I started doing fashion again but I do believe it is better this way,” she says.

FOR Azhar Ahmad, general manager of Wisana Village resort on Redang island, Fatimah Chik is a link to both the past and future of batik.
“She may not be the only one practising batik art form but she’s brought back long-forgotten Malay-Nusantara roots in a way that no one else has.
He’s undaunted at the prospect of starting a batik industry from scratch, and is thankful for Fatimah’s generosity with her craft. He’s keen to see the locals prosper from the project once it takes off, but his motivation is more than about money.
“We want to contribute to the community in a more meaningful way. I hope that through art, batik and the subsequent research for the Redang motif and identity, everyone will have a deeper connection and greater appreciation of the island’s nature and history,” says Azhar.
“There’s more to this place than corals and snorkelling.”

This is the article from New Straits Times  - July 2016

Photos by Zunnur Al Shafiq

Friday, 6 January 2017

PICC exhibition

As part of this festival, Fatimah Chik was invited to exhibited her batik and Shiboritik art works -

The setting up at Putrajaya International Convention  Centre -

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Shiboritik live on TV!

Fatimah Chik's live appearence on  TV3's  SELAMAT PAGI MALAYSIA  show :

Shiboritik is a technique that combines the resist methods of both Asian art of batik and the Japanese art of shibori. 

Shibori, although resists the penetration dyes by tying specific areas and using pressure on the fabrics, it is NOT simply tie and dye! The reason, being that there is a deliberate planning and calculation involved and various 'folding' and 'pressing' and tying techniques.

This video shows veteran artist, Fatimah Chik, giving a demonstration on the various forms of shibori. 

How batik is combined with shibori can be seen by observing the final art pieces where wax is applied to block out areas, re-dyed and re-applied in symmetrical alignment, which is Fatimah's forte!

She loves both batik and shibori and has pioneered a way to combine the both techniques into a coherent result. She currently owns the trademark for this technique.

Selamat Pagi Malaysia
Tetamu (guests)
i. Datuk Mohd Zubir Mohd Zain, Pengarah Kanan Bhg Rekaan dan Penyelidikan Kraftangan Malaysia
ii. Fatimah Chik, Artis Catan

Monday, 2 December 2013

Nukilan Jiwaku - Art Clinic & Shibori Workshop

A special workshop on Shibori - The Art of Dyeing was conducted by Fatimah Chik for special artists and their helpers (mainly mothers, friends, volunteers, Maybank staff). but as the chairman rightly said these are not people with disabilities but more, people with a special ability - they channel their energies and focus onto art to express themselves.

Special artists, their helpers, volunteers and instructors
Here, the participants were taught how to fold & tie a piece of cotton fabric in the way of Shibori.  Fatimah Chik began by mixing the dyes with volunteers. Pails of water were transported to this makeshift workshop area which will also be the location of the Nukilan Jiwa 2013 exhibition in mid December - a space formerly known as Maybank Gallery, in Menara Maybank, KL. This exhibition will showcase works by 22 artists with various physical & learning disabilities but are artistically inclined. This is following the success of last year's Nukilan Jiwa art exhibiiton 2012.

Participants were shown how to fold, roll, scrunch and tie pieces of cotton. These were then soaked in plain water for 10 mins for the water to permeate the fibres.  Then they were taken out, squeezed as dry as possible and then placed in a basin of catalyst. After 5 mins, they were removed from the basin with gloves and squeezed as dry as possible and then rinsed with plain water. This is repeated with the dyes in a similar manner.

Everyone was excited to see the outcome! These are some of the examples of the results they got :

Fatimah Chik with one of the participants, Lim Anuar (far left) and volunteers, ACG members

Lim Anuar, who has a hearing disability, paints in batik and is currently taking a Masters in Art from Universiti Malaya, under the tutelage of Fatimah Chik.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Al-Nidaa - Donation of artworks

A charity organisation called Al-Nidaa is raising funds for the building of a school and hostel to provide quality education at reasonable fees, with priority to underprivileged children who will be supported by the school itself.

Fatimah Chik is supporting this charity, which is close to her heart, by donating 10 of her artworks to the school. This includes pieces from her famed, Nusantara batik scroll and Sejadah series.

More details of painting sale

These pieces will be available for viewing at Al-Nidaa's Charity Dinner on 21 September 2013 at Shah Alam Convention Centre.

Piala Seri Endon 2013 - In the News