Suharto’s Controversy

On February 10th 2008,  Indonesian former president Suharto passed on. As a tribute to his death, Tempo Magazine, Indonesia’s leading weekly magazine published an issue featuring President Suharto and his family; copying exactly from Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting back in the days, The Last Supper.

(Source: Google, 2009)

(Source: Google, 2009)

On the cover of Tempo Magazine, Suharto replaced Jesus Christ as the middle figure on the image whereas the rest of his family members were at the side, giving him the spotlight in the painting. The painting was almost a hundred percent similar to the original painting of The Last Supper. The background of the picture shows three full length windows, the middle one with the brightest light and the side windows slightly tilted away; the middle one as the background light for Jesus Christ. The exact same concept was applied for Suharto’s painting on the cover of Tempo.

Shortly after the magazine was published, it offended a lot of Christians, drawing a lot of criticism and anger. A lot of people protested against the magazine; wanting it to be taken off the newsstands and magazine racks of bookstores. It was a major issue internationally especially among the South East Asian Christians.

The head editor of Tempo Magazine, Toriq Hadad wrote an apology letter and held a conference to apologize to all the Christians if they may get offended by the publishing of the magazine issue. He explained that he had no intention to harm or offend the Christians as he was only inspired by the concept of the painting which could go along with Suharto’s situation. He also said that no religious or cultural elements were highlighted. After the apology, that issue was banned for the month; replaced with another issue. Fortunately there were not any riots or racial issues due to the publishing.

In the publishing industry, there are a lot of great artistic ideas to be put on the cover of a magazine. They could be inspired by paintings and history; turned into modern arts, fashion and entertainment. What is stopping all these great ideas from being published is religion and racial issues. It is not easy being an editor of a magazine. They have to come up with something great yet not offensive to any ethics or races. It cold sound fun designing the cover of a magazine but a lot of elements have to be considered first to avoid miscommunication.



Kress,G & van Leeuwen,T 2006, Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Communication, 2nd Edition, Routeledge, New York

Weber,J 1995, ‘Ethics in scientific and technical communication’ Wisenet Journal, vol.38 pp. 2-4.

‘Indonesian weekly apologises over Last Supper Suharto cover’ 2008, ABC News, viewed on 12 November 2009, < >.


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