Modern mummy: confronting coronavirus photo to be shown in the Netherlands

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By Teresa Yovela

A controversial photo of a coronavirus victim’s “mummified” body will be exhibited in the Netherlands next month.

The image will be shown as part of the ninth BredaPhoto festival, themed ‘The best of times and the worst of times’, to be held from September 9 to October 25.

Indonesian journalist Joshua Irwandi captured the unidentifiable body, tightly wrapped in plastic to meet COVID-19 protocols, in a Jakarta hospital for National Geographic Magazine’s August issue.

Forhanna Foundation, the non-profit production house that funded Mr Iwandi’s story, posted on Instagram that the photo had opened dialogues and “achieved the impact intended”.

“This is work with immediate relevance, showing what is happening right now in this hospital,” the foundation posted. “The photo, iconic for the project as a whole, brings together themes that by nature stand opposed to each other.”

When revealing the photo on Instagram on July 15, Mr Irwandi said it was the “most eerie photography” he had ever done.

“We felt it was absolutely crucial that this image must be made,” the artist wrote. “To understand and connect to the human impact of this devastating virus. The image is published here today as a reminder and a warning of the ever looming danger.”

His post has since been liked more than 350,000 times and received more than 9000 comments.

Indonesian singer Anji Manji reposted the photo suggesting that it was unethical. The singer’s followers accused Mr Irwandi of spreading fear and fabricating the photo. Following criticism from Indonesian Photojournalists’ Association, Mr Manji has since deleted his post and apologized for the “misunderstandings” caused by his comments.

Association member, photojournalist Berto Wedhatama said the photo did not violate any rules in journalism.

“To capture the photo, Joshua must have gotten permission and obeyed the protocols applied by the hospital and the Health Ministry, or else he wouldn’t be able to take his camera into the hospital,” he said.

Media observer Ignatius Haryanto said the debate might relate to Indonesia entering the ‘post-truth’ era.

“There are parts of the society who believes more into what they want to believe, rather than the facts that are delivered through the work of journalists,” he said, addressing Mr Irwandi’s intentions and the backlash he received.

The subject of the photo has not been identified, but is one of the more than 6200 Indonesians who have died from coronavirus. By August 18, Indonesia’s Health Ministry had recorded 1673 new cases, bringing the nation’s total number of infections to 143,043.

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