If you think arts and crafts of Indonesia are simply tourist traps, think again. While it’s true you will find many items for sale at the markets or from the street vendors at the entrance of sites and attractions; these crafts are genuine and hold an important part in the daily life of the Indonesian people.

The Varied Arts and Crafts of Indonesia

Indonesian crafts and arts are diverse: jewelry, beadwork, batik, pottery, metal, baskets, wood carving, leather puppet, stone carving, and painting. While we only witnessed a few of these during our short stay on Bali and Java, the quality and beauty of the work were impressive. When you peruse next time through the market stalls or are looking for your next purchase, remember that local artists spent hours creating these pieces through extensive skills. Any leather puppet show, any wood carving ornament, any colorful batik is a piece of art reflecting Indonesia’s heritage.

Crafts of Indonesia . Beautifully painted wooden dancer statue

Beautifully painted wooden dancer statue

Wood Carving

The small shop we visited presented pieces small and big. The small items included decorations of deities like Buddha or Ganesh, or masks. Traditional carvings decorate walls and doors through tableaux, walls, and columns.

Crafts of Indonesia . Set of tools to carve the design.

Set of carving tools

Most importantly wooden urns and other ornated recipients hold the ashes of cremated bodies or religious offerings. The bigger pieces were real furniture, many we saw in local houses and restaurants, a sign wood carving is relevant to all Balinese. The owner of the workshop mentioned a bigger piece could take four to six months, showing a real artistic dedication.

Crafts of Indonesia . Precision and details

Precision and details

The essences of wood are ebony, crocodile tree (only around Bali), hibiscus, sandalwood (from the Flores Island), and mahogany. The sculptors’ skills are impressive: how they handle the metal tools, the sharp carving tools slowly putting away wood chips and transforming the rough wood log into art.

Crafts of Indonesia. Different types of wood

Different types of wood

Most wood carvers on Bali are in the villages around Ubud: Tegalalang, Singakerta, Pujung, Jati, Pengosekan, Celuk, and Mas. The store we visited was Kubu Taman Sari in Batusepih, Kemenuh – Sukawati.

Indonesia. Crafts . Chairs and statues for the house

Wooden Chairs and Statue

Pinterest. Indonesia Crafts. Well-worn furniture.

Well-worn furniture

Leather Puppets

Tucked into the side of the road, the little store hid the amazing work done. Pure needlework on leather. One worker carved the hard leather skin first, using pinching tools to create the design and pattern of the figurine. The best skin for the leather puppets is from buffalo hide, though cow skin is sometimes the another option.

Indonesia. Crafts . Punching holes in buffalo skin

Punching holes through the buffalo skin

Indonesia. Crafts . Close-up on the buffalo skin

Close-up on the buffalo skin

A small piece could take a couple of days of painstaking work; a larger doll could take weeks. Most puppets are 10 – 30 in (25 – 75 cm) tall. Another artist painted the punctured pieces, sometimes leveraging the natural yellow of the skin as background hue, or coloring it white or black depending on the puppet’s character. Each plane of the figure bears paint, a process that takes weeks as one side needs to dry before starting the other. Natural elements such as soft wood or plants compose the mechanism that gives life to the puppets.

Indonesia. Crafts . Close-up on painting the leather puppet

Close-up on painting the leather puppet

Broadly known as shadow puppetry, the art is called Wayang kulit in Bali. Some consider it the oldest puppet form, dated from the 8th or 9th century. Many of the leather puppet shows tell the stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata Hindu epics. While Ubud is a great place for travelers to watch a shadow puppet performance, these events are part of the regular life of the Balinese. Indeed, villages will have Wayang kulit when celebrating religious events and festivals.

Indonesia. Crafts . Leather puppet

Leather puppet

Batik

The workshop we visited was fantastic and highly educative. A short area presented the two different processes of the batik. One is manually drawing dots and lines with the hot wax. The other is printing the design using a hot copper stamp. The printed batiks are created faster and therefore are usually cheaper.

Indonesia. Crafts . Batik Stamping

Batik Stamping

Indonesia. Crafts . Batik Stamping Close-Up

Batik Stamping Close-Up

Men mostly handled the heavy stamps, continually dipping it in wax and weighting on the stamp to impregnate the fabric. Hand-drawing appeared to the realm of the women, who expertly added dots and lines on long pieces of white or colored fabrics.

Indonesia. Crafts . Batik Freehand Drawing

Batik Freehand Drawing

The free flow of their hands was like a dance, as they dipped the brush in the hot wax before drawing.
The women stood together in a circle where pots of hot wax stood ready for dipping.

Indonesia. Crafts . Hot Wax.

Hot Wax

The workshop tainted the white sheet with natural colors, and a long line of clothes hung drying in the shade.

Indonesia. Crafts . Batik Natural Coloring Components

Batik Natural Coloring Components

Most importantly, the local Balinese inspire and wear the created designs, which are not just for the traveler’s benefits.

Indonesia. Crafts . Batik Sheet Tainting

Batik Sheet Tainting

Indonesia. Crafts . Batik Sheet Drying

Batik Sheet Drying

Patterns can reveal the status of the bearer, specific regions, or traditional events such as weddings. The shop we visited was Batik Plentong, Jl. Tirtodipuran 48, Yogyakarta.

Indonesia. Crafts . Batik Hand Painting.

Batik Hand Painting

Indonesia. Crafts . Batik Patterns

Batik Patterns

Pinterest. Indonesia Crafts. Colorful sarongs

Women wearing colorful sarongs at an Hindu ceremony

Stone Carving

While we did not visit any stone carving workshop, the beauty of the carved walls we saw at several temples was undeniable. The intersect design showed a high level of craftsmanship, with very detailed and precise scenes depicting stories past and legends.

Indonesia. Crafts . Stone Statue at the Bali Besakih Temple

Stone Statue at the Bali Besakih Temple

Temples like Hindu Pura Besakih are the clear examples of these stone storytelling. Local artists are restoring the damaged pieces, and we can admire their works and skills in many locations such as Prambanan Temple.

Indonesia. Crafts . Stone Statue at a private temple on Bali

Stone Statue at a private temple on Bali

Temples like Hindu Pura Besakih are the clear examples of these stone storytelling. Local artists are restoring the damaged pieces, and we can admire their works and skills in many locations such as Prambanan Temple.

Pinterest. Indonesia Crafts. Stone Statues at Prambanan Temple, Yogyarkata

Stone Statues at Prambanan Temple, Yogyarkata

This visit, as well as my entire Indonesian trip, including the tour of Mini Indonesia in Jakarta or Prambanan Temple in Yogyakarta, or visiting the Tegalalang Rice Terraces in Bali, was organized thanks to the Konsulat Jenderal Republik Indonesia di San Francisco and provided by Marintur Indonesia. Thank you for the terrific opportunity! Our opinion is our own and is not impacted by this partnership.

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The Crafts of Indonesia: A Window into Vibrant Traditions // If you think arts and crafts of Indonesia are simply tourist traps, think again. While it’s true you will find many items for sale at the markets or from the street vendors at the entrance of sites and attractions; these crafts are genuine and hold an important part in the daily life of the Indonesian people.