Batik Art Empowers Women


Forever Young, Nicholas Sironka
Photo by Martin Musialczyk

By Madeline Kimberly

Women are generally seen as weak, fragile and materialistic beings. Nicholas Sironka, a Maasai from Kenya, provides a different perspective to what women are actually like. He’s an artist and he uses his art to speak to the world. In his art, women are depicted as powerful, fair, loving and brave creatures that are equal to their male counterparts.

The pieces he has on display at Shoreline CC follow the theme “The Strength of a Woman.” Each of his paintings on display seem to embrace and empower beautifully happy Maasai women. According to Sironka, his showcase at Shoreline CC was intended to honour “Maasai women and their lives.” His main goal for this show is to reveal the hardships and strength of Maasai women.

“I have attempted to speak of their struggles, and their triumphs, with much emphasis being the areas that many men have in the past not spoken of in their favor,” Sironka said through an email interview.

Sironka employs a “tedious and meticulous” process of using hot wax and cold water fabric dyes to create his art, an art form called Batik, originating from Indonesia. He first came across Batik when he was working for a children’s book publishing company, “Jacaranda Designs.” He had seen one of the local artists using Batik, so he started to take on Batik himself in 1992. According to Sironka, he uses Batik because “this art form was largely regarded as a cheap and insignificant art form! I sought to elevate the value and the regard for Batik art!”

Once I first laid my eyes on his pieces, the bright colors drew me in like a moth to a flame. The gallery was dimly lit, but in the presence of numerous vivid Batik pieces, the room seemed to gleam with radiance. The undeniable presence of the sun in most of Sironka’s art provides a cozy orange glow that warms the heart of anyone who takes a peek at his work.

His art seems to tell a story all on its own and the characters he paints spout out words from a script he had written himself. Most will appreciate the pieces on display, if not for the story then at least for their striking beauty. Sironka’s pieces all seem to materialize from the passion and love he has dedicated to his culture.

He has a studio based in Seattle where he creates his art and also privately teaches the art of Batik. He also used to be part of the art department at Whitworth College in Spokane.

Sironka grew up alternating between the urban areas of Naikuru and Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, and the rural areas of his hometown, Narok. His experiences filled him with love for his culture and his people, the Maasai. He considers art to be the best way he can tell the story of his people’s life.

“I have always sought to tell of my culture with dignity and truth,” Sironka said. Each of his painting tells a story regarding his culture that was previously “unknown, misinterpreted or misunderstood.”

Furthermore, the part of the money he gets from the sale goes towards the high school education of Maasai girls in his community in Kenya.

“Often, our women live long and happy.
Time spent with their children
Seems to generate their lives.
As is evident in every Maasai home,
There is always an elderly lady who is forever young!”
– Nicholas Sironka

This is a note Sironka displayed next to a piece that really stood out to me. It was called “Forever Young.” At first, it just seemed to be a painting of three Maasai ladies laughing in good spirit with the cheerful, bright sun and orange sky as their backdrop. There was a little girl smiling at the bottom of the painting, then on top of her was a carefree young woman who seemed to be dancing followed by an older woman holding a stick with her frail hands. She looked maybe 60 years of age but she was still peacefully smiling.

They were all wearing colorful Maasai traditional accessories that flaunted one of the aspects of the Maasai’s beautiful culture. It seemed that this piece was used to symbolize the fact that a woman’s physical age does not necessarily mean a weary soul; it just means a wiser but, nonetheless, still joyful soul.

Sironka currently has his pieces on display in SCC’s art gallery in building 1000 and I hope that you’re going to find it an enjoyable experience. To those of you interested to see the face behind the Batik, Sironka will be coming to SCC on Oct. 21 to hold a Batik painting workshop from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the visual arts building in room 2068, then again at 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.. During this time, you can meet him in building 1000 in the lobby.