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Woodcarving in Jepara, Java

Indonesia’s wealth of cultural handicrafts is as diverse as its many cultures. Each month we explore the archipelago’s offerings through a different traditional craft.

Jepara, on the north coast of Central Java, is considered to be the centre of woodcarving in Indonesia, and many districts of the city are packed with furniture stores and shops selling intricately carved wooden products, from picture frames to reliefs, to statues and the most delicately carved furniture you could imagine. In keeping with Muslim tradition, most carvings do not show the human form, and a characteristic of carvings from Jepara is that they usually depict a very complex and elaborate weave of branches, vines and leaves.

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The carving tradition in Jepara dates back to the second half of the 1500s, during the reign of Ratu (Queen) Kalinyamat. Under her rule, the coastal town became a powerful trading centre, and the export of carvings, made from teak grown in the area, helped the local economy to flourish.

These days Jepara’s economy is driven mostly by the furniture industry, where elaborately carved teak pieces are created in small workshops around the city.