Lest we forget
A natural disaster-themed exhibition of the selected works of noted photographer Kemal Jufri is currently on display at the Salihara gallery in Pasar Minggu, South Jakarta.
“AFTERMATH: Indonesia in the Midst of Catastrophes” also includes a multimedia presentation of the photos featuring a musical score by Dimawan Krisnowo Adji with vocals by ethnomusicologist Nyak Ina “Ubiet” Raseuki.
According to Kemal, whose works have been published in various media outlets such as TIME magazine and The New York Times, the event is partly held to prevent people from forgetting the tragedies and their latent nature.
“Take for example the [2004 Aceh] tsunami … after it happened, people tend to forget that it can happen again. If we don’t conduct preparations and good early warnings or if the methods to manage [the disaster] aren’t maximum, the effects of the disasters can recur,” he said.
When earthquakes of over magnitude 8.0 struck Aceh again in April this year, the early warning system reportedly failed to work well.
The scene during the main earthquake and shortly after included panicking residents and traffic. Residents said they only heard sirens 30 minutes after the earthquake, and disaster warning equipment was discovered to be lacking maintenance and periodical testing.
Aside from photographs depicting the 2004 tsunami’s aftermath, the 36 photos displayed in the exhibition include those depicting the effects of Merapi’s eruptions in 2006 and 2010 as well as the Sidoarjo mudflow in East Java.
The 2010 Merapi eruption killed over 250 devastated villages and caused the government to evacuate about 2,000 families. The Sidoarjo mudflow, which began in 2006 amid the drilling of oil and gas company PT Lapindo Brantas in the area, affected thousands of households and caused severe environmental damage.
Kemal, whose list of achievements include winning second prize in the World Press Photo Award’s People In The News Stories category in 2011, depicted the tragedies through striking pictures such as the interiors of a house covered in Merapi volcanic ash or a bird’s-eye view of barren, mud-covered land in Sidoarjo.
It’s hard to fail noticing the dramatic, almost grand atmosphere in his works despite the real situations they depict. The photographer, who used analog when paving his career around 15 years ago, said retouches do play a part in the process of producing his works, but none was so drastic as to be considered manipulation.
In the end, for Kemal, what matters is the “essence” of what he captures rather than the aesthetics, he said, and that “essence” usually spreads throughout a series of photographs.
“The comprehensive essence [in the pictures] is the struggle of those at the disaster locations to rise up, not only giving up to destiny. The essence is the victory of the human soul and the human being’s struggle,” he said.
Thus, Kemal’s pictures convey hope and resilience aside from the tragic scenes prevalent in the aftermaths of disasters. One photograph, for example, depicts a family laughing on top of a bare mattress against the background of an area destroyed by the tsunami.
“[The exhibition] is a story that depicts the triumph of the human spirit at a time of utter despair and a humbling recollection of mankind’s vulnerability in the face of catastrophes, natural or manmade,” said the event’s statement.
Curator and longtime photographer Oscar Motuloh said the imagery in Kemal’s photos is “more than just insipid ceremonial artifacts. His work is more a visual analysis of the historical records of our civilization that serves as a realistic basis to contemplate the proverbial footprints left by mankind.”
Kemal said he wished to go beyond merely presenting these images to the public as a reminder. The exhibition is also aiming to raise funds to be given to some of the victims of the documented catastrophes.
This is Kemal’s first solo exhibition. A photography book of almost 200 pages, including the images exhibited in “AFTERMATH”, is due to be published in July or August of this year.
On opening night, musicians Ubiet and Krisnowo played a live version of a score specially composed for the event at the venue’s theater while the space behind them displayed the exhibition’s photos —some of which were enhanced by three-dimensional effects. The result was an emotion-stirring presentation that began with bleak scenes of destruction progressing to those of hope and consolation.
Those who missed the live show can still enjoy the multimedia presentation, which includes the recorded score, at the exhibition.
The exhibition is free of charge and runs until May 29.