This entails, on the one hand, helping people recognize that ‘fashion’ is not a ‘thing’ out there, but a creation of our own doing. The real human universal is not ‘fashion’, but creativity in dressing, regardless of how you adorn your body, regardless of your cultural medium. That is what we have in common with all other people, not a globalized industry.
On the other hand, the task entails helping people to recognize that the clothing produced by the industrial system is an expression of deep psychic poverty and wafer thin superficiality, all in the interests, perhaps, of deflecting our thoughts away from the great harm that it is doing to our planet. It is a status commodity and pretends to help us construct dreams and myths about who we would like to be in this world, but in reality most is cheap, disposable junk. Coming from the West, where cheap, disposable clothing has been normalized, it is challenging to figure out how to convey to people just how deeply meaningful clothing in other cultures can be, has been, and sometimes still is.
Today I saw an image that captures the essence of what I would like to convey: a poster about Javanese batik inspired by the spiritual and philosophical essence of batik. My photographer and artist friend in Central Java, Mas MJA Nashir, sent the image to me in a chat this morning. Memayu hayuning bawana means laku secara spiritual, to perform in a spiritual way, he explained. Literally it means to ‘beautify this beautiful world’ (mempercantik bumi yg cantik). The beautifying that he meant runs so deep. It means to perform in a beautiful way towards the earth, towards nature and towards life (terhadap Bumi, terhadap Alam, terhadap Kehidupan). Life for the Javanese, for the batik maker, for the batik lover, is beauty. The root word in memayu and hayuning, is the same, he pointed out; it is ayu, ‘beautiful’. Memayu is ‘to make beautiful’ (Hayu=Ayu=Cantik . Memayu = membuat cantic).
“I always remember Mas Ismoyo saying that memayu hayuning bawana is the essence of batik for the Javanese,” Mas Nashir confides. Mas Ismoyo is a mutual friend and master batiker, living in Yogyakarta, whose studio has been an inspiration for Nashir and me for more than a decade, a place where we go for stimulating conversations and to get in touch with spiritual roots. I always leave that Eden in a spirit of peace and wonder.
I perceive their batik workshops as teaching the essence of the environmental movement: loving the earth and all creatures in it. This is what inspires all the batiks of Mas Ismoyo and his beautiful wife, a master batiker in her own right, Mbak Nia.
Mas Nashir has a small patio behind his house. During the corona lockdown he has been fixing it up and collecting plants to decorate it. “I made this photograph this morning and used it in my poster to celebrate Batik Day,” he wrote.
Suddenly tears prick my eyes. The penny drops. This poster shares what I would like to convey to people about indigenous clothing traditions of other cultures. Depth, beauty and going further than ‘doing no harm’: doing good to planet, nature and people; living a spiritually true life; aspiring to beauty. To wear beauty, to create beauty, to insist on beauty. That is when you have desirable clothing.