Photography by Perttu Saska LOCALS / June 2014


Photography by Perttu Saska
Text by Dora Moutot

On the first glance, it kind of looks cute. On the second glance, it looks troubling. Study it a third time, and it becomes plain disturbing and a feeling of empathy takes over us.

Between 2009 and 2013, numerous little monkeys dressed in baby clothes and masks with doll heads haunted the streets of Jakarta. Dressed up, chained and held captive by a begging trainer, these monkeys would dance and perform tricks in street corners and at the crossroads of the city centre, before stretching out their hand to the passer-bys in a bid to collect a few coins.



Finnish photographer Perttu Saska has captured the images of this declining tradition called “Togeng Monyet”, in a series of photo portraits of these performer monkeys. Photographed against darkened backgrounds, the monkeys appear isolated. Disguises, masks, and outfits for children bring a dreary and distressing ambiguity to the scene. Only the hands and feet betray the identity of the animal. The images are all once bewitching and eerie. They put our humanity into question.




 “Animals are a mirror, reflecting on anything we want them to be. I do portraits of men and animals, of man and animal. I see and make no difference. I want to see man in animal. Man through animal”, explains the photographer.

 “I am curious on how nature becomes culture and culture becomes nature”, says Saska about this Asian tradition.

The series’ title “A Kind Of You” is aptly chosen. “The title refers to human-likeness, but also to our moral character, to the ways we deal with nature and otherness”, tells us Saska.





In 2011, under the pressure from animal rights organisations, the Indonesian government decided to take legal measures and ban the masked monkey shows. These monkeys are said to be victims of abuse. During their training, they are taught how to stand up by being hung from the neck for several hours. Teeth are removed so that they won’t bite. In order to force them to wear a mask, they are beaten. Rarely vaccinated and full of bacteria, they are the carriers of all sorts of diseases that can be transmitted to man, such as tuberculosis.




Often kidnapped by poachers from their natural home and their mothers, these monkeys are then sold at markets. Bought by the dozens by a handful of people, these monkeys are then rented to trainers in the streets, one by one. These trainers made their living thanks to these monkeys, sometimes cashing in up to 1,7 million rupees (around $28,000) per month.

Now banned in Jakarta, this practice, which has been denounced as barbaric, has also left hundreds of poor people without resources. Yet this tradition of “Topeng Monyet” (“masked monkeys”) takes its roots in Indonesia eons ago and some trainers swear they treat these monkeys as their own children.

Removed from their trainers by the police, the macaques were then placed in refuge centres where they are cared for. However, the showmen are pleading authorities to return their macaque, claiming that these performances are their only means of livelihood.




Despite authorities taking a firm hold over the situation in 2011, Pettru Saska’s photographs were actually shot in 2012. In order to document this phenomenon, Saska undertook in-depth research.

“I did a lot of groundwork with the aid of a local journalist before we found a few people known as “monkey masters” in the slums of Jakarta. I photographed the series over a few weeks in the autumn of 2012. Since the beginning of this year, the legislation has been made even stricter, and owning monkeys is now punishable by a prison sentence”, he explains.

Conditions for the shoot were far from simple and the tired or distressed monkeys often attempted to attack and bite.

“Shooting was hard because I was working in crowded slums as well as traffic circles – very chaotic. Monkey masters (traders who train the animals) took me quite well, since I made it clear that I was not judging them – I just wanted to document their monkeys.”

The images of Pettru are a frightening relic of an ancient archaic tradition, and although “Topeng Monyet” is now on the brink of disappearance in Indonesia, it is still common practice in Pakistan. The projection of our human image onto primates remains a popular trend, as shown by these photographs shot most recently in 2014 by Associated Press photographer, Muhammed Muheisen.




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