I am horrified by the photo exhibition of Indigenous West Papuans currently on display outside the Czech Embassy in London.

The exhibition, entitled ULTRA-SUPER-NATURAL, contains photos of Indigenous West Papuan Yali people alongside images of astronauts and space travel. The contrast is clear: primitive Papuans versus modern, developed Western society.

West Papuans are not animals, and West Papua is not a zoo. There are over 300 tribes in my country, all with unique cultures and languages. They deserve to be respected, not treated as primitive ‘stone age’ creatures who are too uncivilised. This is the same racism that sees us as ‘monkeys‘, the same racism that destroys our Sago palms and replaces them with palm oil and rice, that wants to send us to the moon or to get us ‘down from the trees’.

Viewing West Papuans in this way is effectively a justification for Indonesia’s continuing occupation. It suggests we are too primitive and uncivilised for statehood. Indonesia has always spoken of West Papuans in precisely the same language, dating back to the 1969 Act of No Choice. This was a situation in which 1026 Papuans were forced to vote against independence on behalf of a population of over 800,000. It could only be justified if we were seen as too ignorant to hold the referendum we were promised.

There is no West Papuan ‘prehistory’. There is our past, our stolen sovereignty, the Indonesian occupation, and our present struggle for merdeka. As Dr Ibrahim Peyon, an Indigenous Yali academic, has said, Yali people have opposed this dehumanising photography project for over 20 years.

Our struggle is not only for a sovereign state, but also for the survival of our culture. The exhibition text describes some Yali beliefs and customs, yet it does not mention the Indonesian occupation which presents an existential threat to their survival. There is no mention of the Act of No Choice, the more than 500,000 West Papuans who have been killed since our land was invaded, or of the recent military Indonesian operations in the Star Mountains, which have killed many Yali people. No one viewing these images would have any idea of our true history and present situation. In this way, the exhibition helps Indonesia conceal their hidden genocide in West Papua.

To the artists who created this exhibition, I want to say that West Papuans are not ‘prehistoric’ – we are people, just like you, living under a military occupation that your government has provided support for.

On behalf of the ULMWP and the West Papuan people, I call on the Czech Embassy to remove this racist and offensive exhibition.

Benny Wenda