In Jakarta, capital of Indonesia, urban overpopulation entails extreme poverty. In order to survive, people have to come up with new ways of gathering attention. When Finnish photographer Perttu Saska saw what was going on at the corner of every street, he decided to document it in a series entitled A Kind of You.
These monkeys are exhibeted at traffic lights or in the alleys, dressed up in baby clothes and forced to wear doll’s heads that give them an unsettling, almost human appearance. They are trained to ask for charity, and sometimes to enact sad little performances like riding a small bike, or applying makeup while looking in a mirror.
The phenomenon of topeng monyet (“masked monkeys”) is certainly not a sight to behold: various animal rights associations are fighting to save the 350 macaques that are exploited, undernourished, often abused and locked up inside minuscule cages every night, in appalling sanitary conditions. There have already been some good results, as reported on this article.
But Saska’s photographs have the merit of raising questions not only on animal cruelty. The little monkeys, chained by their neck, with their dirty and torn clothes, with those doll heads (probably found in a dump), look like a grotesque and transfixed version of their owners: poor people, choked by the chains of misery, who live by their wits because there’s nothing else to do.
Saving the monkeys is important and righteous; it’s difficult to see how the ones on the other end of the leash will be saved.
This is what is really disturbing in Saska’s work: the feeling we are actually looking in a mirror, at “a kind of you”.
Here is Perttu Saska‘s official website.