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Leading Vietnamese artist and poet Bui Quang Vien has defied orders from authorities to destroy 29 of his abstract paintings in Vietnam’s biggest city after they were displayed in a gallery without permission last month.

The Ho Chi Minh City government fined Vien 25 million dong (about $1,000) on August 9, in an unprecedented move that critics called a “step back,” even in a country known for its strict censorship. He held a painting exhibition at Alpha Art Station from July 15 to July 30.

The artist, who posted the poem under the pseudonym Bui Chat, said, “I have no words to express my shock. He called the order “incredible and inconceivable”.

“I knew I would be fined because they formed a 15-16 person inspection team and noted that I was holding an exhibition without a permit,” he told RFA Vietnam in an interview. .

“I admit that I organized the exhibition without applying for a permit,” Wien told RFA, adding that he was so busy organizing the show that he did not know he had to apply for a permit.

“I thought they were just going to fine me,” he said.

The decree signed by Duong Anh Duc, vice-president of the government of Ho Chi Minh City, stipulates that if Vien does not destroy his works, they will be forcibly destroyed, while late payment of fines will attract interest.

“Last year, many exhibitions were held at the same time or a little earlier than mine, and almost all the small galleries I know of in Saigon did not apply for exhibition permits,” he said. -he declares. Saigon is the old name of Ho Chi Minh City.

“They carried on as usual without any problems. However, my exhibit was penalized for not having a permit,” Vien said.

None of his 29 paintings targeted by authorities have a political message or nudity, and persecution by authorities in the one-party communist state is nothing new.

In 2011, under the pseudonym Bui Chat, he won the International Association of Publishers Freedom of Publishing Award for 2011. However, after returning from Argentina to receive the award, he was detained by police for two days.

Cultural and literary censorship has existed in Vietnam for a long time, but experts say censorship of painting is new.

“Vietnam is notorious for destroying books. But this is the first occurrence in the field of painting. “I have never heard of a case where an exhibit was fined,” said Hong Dung, a professor and member of the Vietnam Free Literature Association advocacy group.

“Frankly, this is a step backwards in cultural governance. I think anyone with the same conscience would be surprised by such a decision,” Hong added.

Wien told RFA that he would fight to protect his art and would not give up easily.

“The decision says I can file a complaint or take legal action. So, I will see my lawyer go through the process of filing a complaint or taking legal action to protect my rights and interests,” he told RFA.

“I can’t destroy my art.”

Translated by Anna Wu. By Paul Eckert.

Polly Ferguson

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