Wandering Spirit: African Wax Prints
Batik is a Javanese word that refers to a traditional technique of wax-resist dyeing in which a pattern is made on both sides of cotton fabric with warm liquid wax applied by a tjanting, a small brass cup with a spout. After the wax cools and solidifies, the cloth is dyed with a primary color, and the wax is then removed, revealing the pattern where the wax had once been. The success of the wax prints on the African scene is driven by many factors, especially the cultures, tastes and desires of consumers. Clothing in Africa serves an important means of communication, sending social messages and affirming proverbs, as well as communicating social position, political convictions, ambitions, marital status, ethnicity, age, sex and group affiliations. The names and stories associated with the fabrics differ from country to country and region to region. One fabric may have different names in different countries, depending on the symbolism that the consumer can read in the fabric. The history of the African wax print is a history paved along colonial trade routes and globalization in the post-colonial era. Though not originally African, these textiles have become ingrained in African culture and society, and loved and identified as their own.