IF traditional tenun (woven) songket by prisoners in Penor and Bentong Prisons is known to have been worn by Raja Permaisuri Agong Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah, some of the batik products by inmates at Kajang Women’s Prison, such as the batik purse, have been her accessories of choice.
The award-winning products were made inside a workshop in the prison and are sold to the public at the prison’s gallery.
The workshop provides a ray of hope to the inmates, many of whom have been inside the prison for decades. Looking at the bright colours, eye-catching designs and great craftsmanship by the “artisans”, it is easy to see that hopelessness has been replaced with great aspirations.
The batik-making class, under the bigger umbrella of entrepreneurship classes in the prison, is part of the rehabilitative programme for inmates so that they are equipped with basic practical skills to help them secure jobs after their release.
Upon completing the programme, they will receive certificates.
Before we arrived at the batik-making workshop, we had a quick look at the facilities, such as workshops for hair salon and spa, bakery and tailoring.
The batik-making class was once taught by one of Malaysia’s traditional textile legends, the late Professor Sulaiman Ghani.
“This is it. Come in,” said one of the guards as she gestured to us to step inside.
Inside, the atmosphere was warm, cheerful and friendly.
“Assalamualaikum,” greeted one of the inmates, as we were introduced to all seven of the batik-making trainees there.
In the painting and colouring section of the workshop, a few inmates were doing hand-drawn batik painting on a stretched fabric tied to a wooden frame.
Some of them were applying the tie-and-dye batik technique.
With deep concentration, they displayed graceful skills, steadily painting strike after strike that highlighted the petal designs with gold colour.
In another section of the workshop (tailoring) were four inmates, each at their respective workstation.
Here, the inmates learnt how to turn batik fabric into garments — baju kurung, kaftans, kids clothing, shirts and more.
Adorning the walls at the back of the workshop were framed awards and accolades that the prison had won over the years.
We then moved on to the craft-making section of the workshop where eight inmates were busy making batik handicrafts, such as purses, tote bags, neckties, coin pouches, tissue holders and doormats.
The inmates’ skills were impressive. Working like clockwork, they wasted no time completing the tasks at hand before moving to the next one.
“We don’t waste any fabric here,” said the prison officer as we were shown how the remaining fabric cuts were recycled.
The inmates were jovial, joking and laughing among themselves.
“We are happy here. It gives us a daily purpose,” said one of the inmates, in her 50s, who was sewing a red batik necktie.
The prison officer said the inmates wore uniforms with different colours (red, green, blue and deep-teal blue) to indicate improvement in their behaviour.
“Red indicates good behaviour and it progresses all the way to deep-teal blue, which indicates tremendously obedient and good behaviour,” she said, adding that those in white uniforms were serving a prison sentence of six months and below.
An inmate sketching a pattern on a fabric.
A JOURNEY OF SELF-HEALING
Supervising the painting and colouring section of the workshop was Farhana Othman, 34, a prison officer who was taught by Sulaiman himself.
“There are 19 inmates in all three sections of the batik-making class, with four supervisors.
“We know that integrating into society after serving a prison sentence can be hard.
“So the classes are aimed at providing them with the necessary skills to gain employment and to boost their confidence. Hopefully, they will find it easier to start over.”
Farhana said the batik-making class, like other classes offered in the prison, helped instil discipline and good behaviour.
“The classes impart patience by teaching them to focus on technical and practical aspects of the work.”
In the batik-making class, she said there were no restrictions on the designs.
“We give them a free hand to come up with their own designs, following our guidance and advice.
“It is important for them to have a sense of ownership and that we can trust them. Although the class is conducted under supervision, we try not to hinder their creativity.”
The batik-making class, among other entrepreneurial classes in the prison, is scheduled from 8am until 5pm every day.
“Producing one batik fabric can take a lot of time. The process requires them to learn how to make the sketch from scratch, from pencil-sketching to hand-painting with dye on white cloth, until the products are ready to be put on shelves.
“Batik-making, like other forms of art, can help with the self-healing process,” Farhana said.
For inmates Nurul and Cindy (not their real names), the chance to learn batik-making was precious as they had the opportunity to develop new skills.
“I came in with zero knowledge, and after six months, I knew how to make my own batik. I learned how to apply the techniques on different types of fabrics until the finishing touch,” said Nurul, who considered herself lucky to be taught under Sulaiman.
“We come here for class every day. I won’t miss it for a day because the time spent here has helped me with my mental health,” said Nurul, who has been serving a prison sentence for 12 years.
Recalling her earlier days in the class, Nurul found herself choking with emotion.
“I know society will judge me when I leave prison, but with the skills that I have learnt here, I hope to build and strengthen my confidence.
“I want to support myself when I leave this place, and maybe, start my own batik business.”
Nurul said her designs reflected her personality and the challenges she faced.
“I hope people will get to know me through my batik products and designs. Although I am a convict, I have paid my dues and have learnt from my mistakes. All I want now is what’s best for me.”
For Cindy, learning the art of batik-painting is a journey into self-healing.
“I learnt to forgive myself after taking this class. I was in a bad place for a long time after receiving the sentence for my mistakes, that my mind was not able to comprehend how to continue living.
“Batik-making helps me find myself again and I can be productive with my time,” said Cindy, who has served four years, with two more to go.
She thanked her trainers and classmates for their encouragement, which allowed her to be expressive.
“I want to start my own batik garment business once I leave this place.”
BATIK KASEH: MODERN AND EXPERIMENTAL
The inmates are taught to make batik on different kinds of fabrics, including cotton and silk, with prices ranging from RM35 to RM480.
The inmates are taught various techniques of batik-making, including canting, hand-painting, tie-and-dye and flour-coating (to create unique “crack” patterns).
At the gallery, the batik products made by the inmates are available for visitors at reasonable prices.
“No two designs are the same because each one is made by hand,” said Farhana.
Apart from the souvenir shop, visitors can also visit the spa and pamper themselves with a facial or get a haircut.
“Many of these modern and experimental techniques were pioneered by the late Sulaiman,” said Farhana.
An inmate sewing a fabric at the batik workshop of the Kajang Women’s Prison in Selangor. PIX BY ASWADI ALIAS
Batik products made by inmates are dubbed “Batik Kaseh”, coined by Sulaiman to denote love, forgiveness and hope.
A framed photograph of Sulaiman at Pengkalan Chepa Prison in Kelantan that adorns the wall at the National Textile Museum, gave an insight into this endeavour.
It is accompanied by a quote from Sulaiman: “Look at them from the heart because there is something in them that we need to explore.”
According to Farhana, Batik Kaseh was marketed locally and internationally.
“The products are produced by inmates in prisons nationwide, such as in Pengkalan Chepa, Kelantan; Bentong, Pahang, and the Pokok Sena Prison, in Kedah.”
source : NST