I’ve made my oath: How an Indonesian mortuary makeup artist is helping families for free

Written by Leo Galuh Published on     6 mins read

Knowing the pain that families had to go through to afford a proper burial service for their loved ones, she put her skills to good use as a makeup artist.

As mortals in the living world, no matter how much we hope for a never ending prosperous life, death is something that awaits us at the end of our lifespan.

Being a universal theme, death is something that we can’t escape from, yet is considered a taboo subject in many societies. Many in the past might avoid talking about death, thinking it to be inauspicious. Ceremonies formed by cultures in society became a way for people to deal with grief and pain of parting with their loved ones.

As time passed, these ceremonial procedures can get very elaborate, and can become a way to show societal status and pride. This puts a lot of pressure on families who are struggling to make ends meet, as they would not be able to afford a proper sendoff for their loved ones. However, Indonesian mortuary makeup artist Gloria Elsa Hutasoit (38) is making a change by offering free mortuary makeup services for the poor.

Leo Galuh (LG): How did you get into this industry?

Gloria Elsa Hutasoit (GH): My mother works in Saint Carolus Jakarta hospital to bathe the dead, but she couldn’t do their makeup. Since my teenage years, I’ve always followed her to work, and that was my first encounter with the dead.

I only started to do mortuary makeup in 2001, as an act of goodwill. At that time, one of our relatives had passed away, and the immediate family had no money at all to afford a makeup artist. I decided to step in and help, but my skills were lacking at that time. That was when I decided to take up courses at beauty salons to master the skill, and developed it over the years. However, back then, I didn’t think it would become my profession.

In 2018, my husband passed away due to several chronic illnesses such as diabetes and kidney failure. We did not have the money to prepare for a proper burial ceremony for him since we did not come from a rich family. He had been working as a photographer when he was alive, while I took on ad-hoc jobs such as selling food.

I felt really lost at that time – It was one thing to be in absolute grief, having lost your partner, but it hurt so much knowing that you didn’t have even financial gains to even give him a good sendoff. During that time, I was very lucky to have many kind relatives and colleagues who chipped in just so that we could have a proper funeral. I was really grateful for all their help.

As my thanks for the help that I’ve received, I made an oath to my God that I will serve the poor for free. I knew how it was like losing someone and not having the means to pay for it, so this was the least I could do.

LG: How would you conduct the session?

GS: I believe that every deceased still has a soul, and therefore needs to be treated with respect. Prior to putting on makeup, I would always introduce myself first and seek their permission. For example, I would say, “Hi mam, my name is Elsa. Please do allow me to do my job and make you look pretty before the sendoff.”

I think doing this helps me to be more familiar with the deceased, and helps in delivering good results. While I do not have an ability to communicate with them, I could sometimes feel the connection I have with them through doing their makeup.

Families who call for my services are usually satisfied with the makeup that I’ve done.

LG: What are some of the challenges faced?

GS: Working as a makeup mortuary artist can lead to burnout at times as well. There were certain times where I had depression – We are used to seeing so many corpses in all type of situations, and it can be distressing at times.

However, the uncertain working time is the most challenging. I suffer from insomnia, so this makes it harder when the phone suddenly rings for my service. It’s hard to get a good rest. Death is never expected by anyone, so most of the time, I’m always ready whenever someone calls me up for the service. However, I’ve never charged for my services – This is solely due to my promise made to help others, and I don’t wish to earn money from grief either way.

LG: How do you deal with costs of cosmetic products?

GS: I started doing this more professionally in 2017, and this meant that I needed more makeup materials to do the job due to increased calls. However, this can be costly because an artist needs to spend around $138 at the minimum to buy makeup tools or cosmetic products. I was running out of these tools, and happened to come across my friend, who was disposing her expired makeup products. I discovered that these work well for mortuary makeup too.

In 2018, I announced a call for donations for expired cosmetic products after my post became viral on Facebook. This opened up a lot of doors as many people in Jakarta had no idea where to dispose of their unused makeup products and tools. Some thought that it was a good movement to save the environment as well.

Donations of expired cosmetic products have been flowing in ever since the call on Instagram. Image courtesy of Leo Galuh.

As of 2020, I’ve received around 1,000 lipsticks, eyebrow pencils, face powder and many more. This has helped me a lot in saving costs.

LG: You’ve also started “Maraton Kebaikan” (Marathon of Kindness) on your instagram. Could you share more about this?

GS: Since the word had spread about donations of expired makeup products, I wanted to go a step further and train anyone who is interested in stepping into this industry.

I held a makeup training for my students on 6 March 2021. It was attended by two students who came in person, and four others through Whatsapp call. By gathering them into a Whatsapp Group, I could facilitate the conversation and training better, and even post jobs there for them to take up. Usually, these trainings take around an hour, and it’s “pay as you wish”.

Elsa with her students on a makeup class. Image courtesy of Leo Galuh.

I think this has shown good results. I had a student, Sandra Permatasari (40), who is a full time e-ride hailing driver with three children. She had a 10 year background as a makeup artist, and was curious on how different it would be as compared to mortuary makeup. She reached out to me via Instagram and learned the skills. She has since started to take up jobs as a mortuary makeup artist.

LG: What do you envision your future to be like?

GS: I have big dreams – I would like to be able to help more people, regardless of their financial situation. It would be great if I could build my own funeral home service provider that gives complete packages for free. This would start from bathing, to makeup until the end of the burial process.

Though there aren’t many players in this industry, the competition is still very tight. This is a profitable business, and others would think that I could ruin the market by giving out free services. However, this would not stop me from doing what I believe is good for the community, especially for those who does not have the means to afford a decent service.

In the future, I also plan to build an online application to provide mortuary makeup services that could serve people anytime, anywhere. I already have at least 50 students located in many different parts of the cities, so this would be valuable for them in taking up ad-hoc jobs as well. While I’ve made my promise to not earn my keep from this occupation, it would be a good way for others to have a good skill to feed their family.

Leo Galuh is an Indonesian based journalist for analytical news service. He loves to meet people and generate ideas for stories. He believes that everyone has an inspiring story that worth-reading. Leo travels a lot and always craves mouth-watering cuisine. Read more of his adventures on HalalTrip

Disclaimer: This article was written by a community contributor. All content is written by and reflects the personal perspective of the writer. If you’d like to contribute, you can apply here


Leo Galuh


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