Art of Dying (2001) / Oscar Motuloh


Triggered by the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997, the Reformasi movement eventually led to the fall of Suharto a year later. Oscar Motuloh (b. 1959; Surabaya), picture editor of Antara Photography Bureau and executive director of Galeri Foto Jurnalistik Antara (the first public gallery in Asia dedicated exclusively to photography), responded to the upheaval with a trilogy that departed from the visual language of press photography and employed metaphors to express his anxieties as an activist. His decision was a creative one and made not to evade censorship.

Unfortunately though, Motuloh seems to have lost the files to Sound of Angkor (1997) and Carnaval (1999), the first two parts of the trilogy. Thankfully, he appears to have salvaged images from the concluding series titled Art of Dying (2001). The photographer sees Art of Dying as the anti-thesis of the movement.

That year, he was invited to France to network with the photographic community while chaos was breaking out in parts of Indonesia.

“By then, I had become quite pessimistic about the Reformasi,” recalls Motuloh. “I was thinking a lot about the concept of death. It is actually a very universal thing. As an extension, the death of democracy should be experienced quite similarly around the world. Therefore, I started making images at the tombs of famous people in France as a way of commenting on the reality in Indonesia.”

The pain he saw in Rodin’s sculpture is turned into a forceful critique of the Reformasi, which had lost its focus with the fall of Suharto.

[Hand of the Shadow and the Tomb of Napoleon (View from 77 Rue de Varenne, Paris) / From “Art of Dying” / Courtesy of Oscar Motuloh]