Drawn to the art of batik

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Art is about influence and most visual artists have always drawn inspiration from others and what they see around. The late British painter and collage artist, Richard Hamilton was inspired by art and ideas of French painter, sculptor and writer, Marcel Duchamp and paved way for later movements such as Pop art. Mmegi Staffer MOMPATI TLHANKANE sat down with a Motswana artist who was inspired by random women in a foreign country

Before the year 2010, Rebecca Lekgaba Hilton was not always an artist.  It never occurred to her that one day she would make a living out her then hidden creative skill.

Five years ago while she was staying in Ghana, Lekgaba Hilton came across a group of women decorating cloth using wax and dye.

Out of interest, Lekgaba Hilton stopped to see the beautiful production displayed by the strangers. “I was always bored at home and had nothing to do so I asked them to teach me and they did not oblige and that’s how I was drawn to the art of batik,” she told Arts & Culture in an interview.

It just goes to show how other people can influence others.  With no background in handwork, she began working on various cloths for leisure.  Later when she returned to Botswana Hilton said she decided to get her certificate at Madirelo.  The 53-year-old woman from Sebina specifically specialises in batik and tie-dye techniques.

“Out of the two, I like batik more because it challenges me and it is both an art and a craft,” she said. 

Batik is popular and well known in the West as a wonderfully creative medium.

The word batik originates from the Japanese ‘tik’ and means ‘to dot’.  Hilton said the art is not very common in Botswana.

Hilton said she puts hot wax over chosen areas of the cloth to make batik.

“After being dyed, the waxed areas remain in the original colour due to blocking,” she illustrated. She said after the final dyeing the wax is removed and that is when the product would be complete.

Hilton said she also sews her batik clothes but she does it on a part time basis.  She makes bags, shirts, t-shirts and blankets out of the batik cloths.

She said Batswana do support her craft by buying her products.

“Foreigners love and supports us the most because they think our products are unique,” she added.  She said the process of making a batik cloth requires time and hard work.

With more than three years as a member of Thapong Visual Arts Centre, Lekgaba Hilton indicated that she has grown a lot.

“I learn from the workshops hosted by Thapong,” she said.  Even though her work does not carry meaning, Hilton said in the future she wants to incorporate something that can represent Botswana’s culture and heritage.

 “As artists we are always inspired by what we see so sometimes I get pattern ideas from the clothes people wear on the street,” she said.

Hilton said she wants to open a store someday and sell her products exclusively.  She said it is not her intention to handwork her products.

“I saw the machine that can be useful for production online but it is very expensive and I cant afford it,” she highlighted.

She said she does not mind teaching people her experiences.  She said thus far she had never met anyone who does batik in Botswana.

  While historically batik is expressive and subtle, Lekgaba Hilton said contemporary batik is very dangerous.

“I use hot wax and other chemicals, I never want a child around me when I perform some of these techniques,” she said.

Looking back, Lekgaba Hilton said she never thought that she would one day be counted as an artist.  Besides batik, Lekgaba Hilton said she also does tie-dye, which consists of folding fabric garments and binding them with string or rubber bands, followed by application of dye.

Overall, Lekgaba Hilton’s batik and tie-dye products are very fascinating looking at the design and dye fabric.  The products are original and impactful and one can only gaze admirably at the choice of patterns and styles.  Lekgaba Hilton’s artistry and skill is amazing and any art lover can have deep appreciation for the amount of time spent to finish any piece.

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