Fern Batik has been featured in British Council’s 'Crafting Futures' campaign, a global initiative that celebrates the value of craft in history and culture through international collaborations. The programme, which is currently active in Southeast Asia, South Asia, Latin America and wider Europe, highlights six artists from various countries who specialise in different crafts.
Fern Chua, the founder and designer of the local fashion house, is one of the six, representing Malaysia and the traditional art form of batik. The other artists are glassblower Jahday Ford from the UK, Romanian jewellery designer Cleopatra Cosulet, paper cutting specialist Patrick Cabral from the Philippines, Mexican Gabriela Martinez Ortiz, a textile artist specialising in embroidery and Saruta Kiatparkpoom from Thailand who utilises scrap metal for sculptural designs.
A film series, Why I Make, was also commissioned by British Council to share the stories of the various artists. Viewers are given the opportunity to step into their studios and witness their craftsmanship behind the scenes and how they started their individual artistic journeys.
In Chua’s video, she shares how she got into sewing, and subsequently batik. It started as a recreational activity to rehabilitate her hand movements after getting involved in a car accident. When she made her first sundress, she realised the traditional textile could be modernised.
“Batik has different meanings to different people,” said Chua.
“This can sometimes also create stigmas which lead to never-ending debates and critiques. I always feel that art itself should not be confined to what is black and white. I choose to stick to my own beliefs — preserving the craft while modernising the design based on my own inspiration.”
Chua wanted to change people’s perception of batik, especially the younger generation as it would often be perceived as dowdy and unfashionable. The collections she has put out so far is evidence that batik can take on a contemporary fashion. In fact, it could also be combined with patterns and colour palettes not typically used in traditional wear.
For example, Fern Batik's latest collection, an expansion of the Moroccan Series, explores abstract designs, blockwork and colour tones inspired by the Sahara Desert, Moorish tiles and Morocco’s natural flora. The new holiday collection features fun and edgy but comfortable silhouettes and a new range of accessories, including matching face masks, headbands and totes.
“It is truly a great honour and a proud achievement to have this great opportunity to promote Malaysia’s culture and heritage through this local art form,” Chua says. “Our artisans are always working hard, and I can only hope that we continue to support the industry to help it grow further.”
The full series is available on Youtube here.