A Finnish photographer has explored Indonesia’s chilling world of dancing monkeys – macaques clad in doll masks and children’s clothes, trained to behave like humans and sent out onto the streets to beg for money. Perttu Saksa, 35, spoke to Metro about this unsettling series entitled “A Kind of You,” created in the autumn of 2012.
“They are animals, forced to behave like humans do. Of course all of them were very stressed; some of them were sick."
The chaos of Indonesia's slums made the project challenging. The busy streets of Jakarta proved to be a challenge for Saksa’s documentary series. “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.”
“I want people to feel empathy. They are sort of a mirror,” says Saksa on how he highlighted the monkeys’ disconcerting anthropomorphic quality. “By making the monkeys the center of my images, I focus on ideas of a more universal nature, like whether or not we should feel empathy towards them.” For Saksa, the portraits are a barometer for gauging indifference towards others’ suffering.
Saksa aimed literally for exposure, to bring to light both our attitudes toward ourselves and other cultures. “I find fascinating how our behavior towards animals exposes the kind of species we actually are. But if I were to choose one message for my work, it would be to expose something that helps us to reconsider our places in the world.”
Last month, Jakarta authorities began clamping down on street monkey performances (topeng monyet). The city's government is buying back all monkeys used as street buskers and donating them to zoos.
Femke den Haas of Jakarta Animal Aid Network says that 350 animals work as street performers in the city.