In May 2023, I was selected as the winner of The Thetis Blacker Award. The Thetis Blacker Award is a highly esteemed accolade given out every two years to recognize outstanding achievements in batik research and practice. The award is named after Thetis Blacker, a renowned figure who made significant contributions to the area associated with the award's focus.
Batik, an age-old art form known for its mesmerizing patterns and rich colors, has gained admiration from art enthusiasts worldwide. The project aimed to create batik-inspired prints using an unconventional material: tea bags. Inspired by the Waste Age Exhibition in London during early 2022, the project sought to explore the potential of waste materials in art and promote sustainability. This report documents the journey of the Tea Bag Batik Project, where tea bags were transformed into vibrant pieces of art through batik wax techniques and natural dyes.
Drawing inspiration from traditional Malaysian batik motifs, I explored the possibilities of printing batik-like patterns using a series of natural dye swatches on discarded tea bags. The endeavour was both an artistic exploration and a sustainable statement, showcasing how waste materials could be reborn as creative expressions.
The primary objective of the Tea Bag Batik Project was to question our responsibility as artists in giving waste a second life. By transforming everyday waste materials, such as discarded tea bags, into meaningful art, the project aimed to inspire creative expressions and encourage reflection on environmental footprints.
Tea Bag Collection: Over a period of 2-3 weeks, tea bags were collected from the local community in the UK, as well as from the artist's own tea-drinking habits. The collection involved almost 700 tea bags of various forms and compositions, with black tea preferred due to its rich and intense hue.
The project involved a collaboration with Syahida, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Malaysia Kelantan, specializing in natural dye making and traditional batik techniques. Syahida's expertise added depth and authenticity to the project, merging tradition and innovation while highlighting sustainability.
Before beginning the batik stamping and coloring process, the tea bags were carefully unfolded, cleaned, flattened, and made string-free. Tapioca paste was used as an adhesive to patch the tea bags together, forming a cohesive fabric.
The project collaborated with Encik Shiham and Puan Mardiyana, a talented batik-making husband-and-wife duo. They specialized in hand-drawn batik and also used bronze copper stamps to achieve specific designs. The batik makers were introduced to the idea of using tea bags as a new material in their craft.
Initially, the batik makers were unsure about using tea bags, but after experimentation, they found a harmonious connection with the material. They focused on achieving evenness and addressed challenges related to the material's surface.
The next phase involved applying natural colors, such as turmeric, Sechang, and logwood, to the tea bags. The existing tea stain on the surface combined with the dye created a harmonious interplay between man-made art and nature.
Results: The Tea Bag Batik Project successfully transformed tea bags into vibrant pieces of art, conveying a powerful message of upcycling and resourcefulness. The project showcased how waste materials could be reborn as creative expressions and inspired viewers to reflect on their environmental impact.
The Tea Bag Batik Project stands as a testament to the transformative power of art and its potential in advocating for environmental consciousness. By embracing sustainability and reimagining waste materials, artists can play a pivotal role in promoting a more sustainable future. The collaboration between traditional batik artisans and innovative materials demonstrated the seamless integration of expertise and new mediums. This project serves as a shining example of how art can be a catalyst for change, inspiring hope for more eco-conscious ventures in the world of art.
I am deeply grateful for the incredible opportunity to work on the Thetis Blacker Award and bring 'Kain Sapra' to life using waste tea bags. This journey has been a remarkable experience, and I extend my heartfelt appreciation to everyone who has played a significant role in making this project a reality. First and foremost, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Syahida Mat Hussin for her invaluable collaboration. Her expertise in traditional batik techniques and natural dyes has been instrumental in elevating the project to new heights. Working together has been an enriching and inspiring experience, and I am thankful for her unwavering support throughout the creative process. I extend my heartfelt thanks to Encik Shiham Mohd Nor and Puan Mardiyana Ismail, the talented batik makers from Bachok, Kelantan. Their enthusiasm and openness to embracing the use of tea bags in batik-making made this project possible. Their artistic vision and craftsmanship added a unique touch to the batik patterns, and I am truly grateful for their creative contributions. Lastly, I want to express my gratitude to the Batik Guild UK committee for recognizing and honouring this project. This prestigious award is a testament to the power of creativity and sustainable practices in the world of art. In conclusion, I am humbled and thankful to everyone who has contributed to this project's success. Your support and collaboration have made 'Kain Sapra' a truly special and meaningful endeavour. Together, we have demonstrated the transformative potential of art and the importance of sustainability in our artistic pursuits.