Hanoi nude exhibition does not go far enough, artists say

By Trong Truong   July 26, 2018 | 09:32 pm PT
Hanoi nude exhibition does not go far enough, artists say
While the destigmatization of nudity is welcome, exhibition organizers still played it safe, they feel.

The first ever exhibition of nude photographs in Hanoi has elicited mixed responses from the artistic community even as it attracts hundreds of people every day and up to 2,000 on some days.

Photographers are elated that the authorities have been progressive enough to permit a nudity exhibition which they had previously labeled as inappropriate for Vietnam.

But the photos on show are old and lackluster, they feel.

"It is a pity that the works selected for display are not my favorites,” said photographer Duong Quoc Dinh, who has seven pictures on display.

“They are quite old and were widely shared many years ago."

Painter Le Thiet Cuong said the organizers have played it safe by only displaying old works and not putting up bolder ones.

Dung Art, one of the participating photographers, said he did not send bolder pieces fearing censorship.

Ngo Thanh Duong, a spokesperson for the organizers, said age had not been a criterion in selecting the works and the organizers chose the best ones that reflected artists’ originality, meaning some old photographs were selected.

“Some works of Duong Quoc Dinh and Thai Phien have been published or won international awards, but they were only seen in personal shows. We wanted to promote them on a national scale.”

The organizers chose 52 works highlighting the beauty of the human body based on originality, visual effect, space, and lighting, he said.

The artists also said it was understandable that the capital city’s first nude exhibition was a low-key affair, with the organizers focusing on what they thought would not shock conservative viewers.

Dinh said: “Nudity has been considered sensitive for long, so the organizers had to be cautious. They have to make ‘safe’ choices, since the public may not fully understand the fundamentals of this art form.”

Vi Kien Thanh, director of the Department of Fine Arts, Photography and Exhibition, said he had difficulty organizing the event.

When he had first suggested it, there was opposition from his colleagues who said it would cause a controversy, he said.

He had to guarantee that selection of the works would be done prudently to avoid any fallout, Thanh added.

The exhibition is a step toward destigmatizing nude artworks, he felt.

"The works help viewers distinguish between aesthetic nudity and vulgar nude pictures permeating social networks."

Cuong said the event possibly marks a turning point for nude art in Vietnam.

Art critic Quynh Nhu agreed, saying, "The exhibition holds artistic and educational value for the public, especially young people."

The photographers said they hope to see similar exhibitions not only in Hanoi but other places.

"The exhibition offers professionals the opportunity to stop keeping their art inconspicuous or being embarrassed by the ‘sensitive' label that the public has for nude photographs," Dinh said.

The exhibition, at the Center for Art Exhibition and Exhibitions of Fine Arts, Photography, 29 Hang Bai Street, remains open until July 27.

In the past, artists have had trouble getting permission for nude photo exhibitions in Hanoi.

Photographer Thai Phien made three unsuccessful attempts over 26 years before eventually holding one in HCMC last month.

The first ever exhibition of nude pictures in the country was held in HCMC last September, when photographer Hao Nhien displayed more than 50 of his works.

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