Vietnamese authorities walk back decision ordering artist to destroy 29 paintings

The fines for holding an exhibition without a permit still stand, but Bui Chat can keep his artwork.
By RFA Vietnamese
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Photos by Alpha Art Station.

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The Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee reversed a decision ordering a popular Vietnamese poet and artist to destroy 29 of his works because he hosted an exhibition in July without a permit, he told RFA.

Bui Quang Vien, better known by his pen name Bui Chat, held the exhibition from July 15-30 at the city’s Alpha Art Station. Authorities on Aug. 9 fined him 25 million dong (about U.S. $1,000) and ordered the destruction of 29 of his abstract paintings, an unprecedented move critics called a “step backward” even in a country known for heavy censorship.

Authorities summoned the painter on Aug. 31 to inform him they had made a new decision on his case, and he received official notification on Monday, he told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.

“Assessments show that the 29 exhibited paintings do not have content that goes against the country’s fine customs or the party and government’s guidelines on culture and art,” the decision said.

“In addition, Mr. Bui Quang Vien is aware of his violations and has expressed his wishes that the paintings not be destroyed,” it said.

Chat told RFA he was happy about the decision.

An undated photo of Vietnamese poet and painter Bui Chat. Alpha Art Station
An undated photo of Vietnamese poet and painter Bui Chat. Alpha Art Station

“It means that [my paintings] can be freely moved from one place to another to be seen by art lovers. I am glad that I was able to get out of a difficult situation,” said Chat.

“The previous decision [of HCMC People’s Committee] asked me to destroy the paintings. Of course, it would be very difficult for an artist to ruin his own works. Additionally, even though I painted all of the paintings,  I no longer own all of them.”

Many of the exhibited paintings were sold to collectors and he did not have the right to destroy them, he said.

Chat said the new ruling showed that local government officials listened to people’s criticism of the original decision. He said that he would consider taking legal action against the People’s Committee in order to have his fine reduced.

Bui Chat, born in 1979, is no stranger to harassment by authorities in the one-party communist state. 

In 2011, he won the International Publishers Association’s 2011 Freedom to Publish Award. However, after returning from a trip to Argentina to receive the prize, he was detained and grilled by the police for two days.

Bui Chat also writes poetry. While Vietnam’s culture police have summoned him many times to discuss his poems but have never fined him for their contents.

Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by Eugene Whong.


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