Bali Nine: Australian gallery removes Joko Widodo portrait

Could a photo be a bellwether for the Australian public's reaction to the Bali Nine executions?

Australia's National Portrait Gallery has removed a portrait of Indonesian President Joko Widodo from its walls.

Image copyright ADAM FERGUSON

The image, taken by Australian photographer Adam Ferguson, was a finalist in the National Photographic Portrait Prize.

It was shot well before Indonesia executed Australian drug traffickers, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

But the gallery says it had to remove the photo - not to protest against the executions but to protect it from the public who might want to register their protest by damaging it.

Australians are angry Indonesia ignored pleas for clemency for the two men, who appear to have undergone a dramatic rehabilitation while in jail over the past 10 years.

Some held candle-lit vigils for Chan and Sukumaran, others waged social media campaigns on their behalf. Some even threatened to boycott Bali on the tourist trail.

But would anyone really stoop so low as to deface the President's image?

"My feeling yesterday, on Wednesday morning, was that in view of the circumstances and our operations, and my best assessment of the risk of damage to the work of art, it was necessary to remove it from public display,' said the gallery's director Angus Trumble, explaining that there had been some negative reaction from visitors.

There is now a blank space on the gallery's wall where the image once hung. The gallery has even removed the photo from its website.

But Ferguson thinks the decision is misguided. Speaking from Nepal where he is shooting for Time magazine, he said he would have preferred the image was left on display to make it's own statement.

"It seems to act in anger against the picture, it seems quite ridiculous," he told Fairfax Media.