Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The cover that sparks the fury of a nation

ABC news (AFP, 2008) brought forward a report on an issue of an Indonesian weekly, Tempo publishing a cover that depict its former leader, Suharto and his family in the posture and setting of Leonardo Da Vinci's The Last Supper after Suharto's death. The magazine's chief editor, Triq Hadad apologises after receiving complaints from Christians in the nation. Hadad explains that they were inspired by Da Vinci's masterpiece and never had the intention to depict Suharto as Jesus.

To understand the controversy of the cover, there are two things that people should understand; the context of The Last Supper and the legacy of Suharto. Suharto was a leader that is revered for his role in the development and the economic growth of Indonesia. At the same time, he is also scorned for his authoritative long ruling that is full of bloodshed and the corruption within the government that crippled the nation's economy during the 1997's recession. On the other hand, The Last Supper painting is based on event of Jesus' last meal with his disciples where he announce one of them will betray him (John 13:12, Bible). The betrayal did eventually materialize.
The original portrayal of The Last Supper incident by Leonardo Da Vinci
(Image source:

For a professional publishing company to commit such a huge misstep is unforgivable. Schriver (1997) concur to this by marking that cultural difference will affect the audience's message interpretation. Since that Tempo is a local weekly, they should be aware of the issue and insensitivity that would stem out of the cover. Furthermore, the headline of the cover, "Setelah Dia Pergi" when translated means, "After His Passing" strongly implies the Christianity context even more so.
Tempo's controversial cover after Suharto's death
(Image source:

Feijter (2007) states that media is increasingly used in relation of religious context and that sometimes opportunists would exploit the theme in order to sell off their product. Tempo is an example unethical publishing that is culturally insensitive. Another incident of similar controversial act is that of the magazine, The New Yorker depicting then-Senator Barack Obama and his wife in Muslim garb and as gun-totting militants (Mooney, 2008).



AFP, 2008, 'Indonesian weekly apologises over Last Supper Suharto cover', Abc News, 6 February, viewed 15 November 2009,

Mooney, A. 2008, 'New Yorker editor defends controversial Obama cover', CNN, 14 July, viewed 15 November 2009,

Feijter, I. 2007, The Art of dialogue: religion, communication and global media culture, LIT Verlag Berlin, Germany

Schriver, K. 1997, 'The interplay of words and pictures', Dynamics in document design: creating texts for readers, Wiley Computer Pub, New York

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