Nguyen Quang Phuc (artist)

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Date: 1979

Region: Asia

Subject: Nudity

Medium: Painting


Artist: Nguyen Quang Phuc

Confronting Bodies: Vietnamese Government

Dates of Action: 1979

Location: Vietnam

Description of Artwork: Nguyen Quang Phuc was prosecuted because of his so-called 'degenerate' and 'reactionary' paintings. The paintings in question were nude figure studies.

The Incident: " ...Phuc was born to an intellectual family in Hanoi. His father, a doctor who combined western medical practice with classical Sino-Vietnamese treatments, was also a member of the Vietnam Kuomintang party. His mother assisted his father in his medical practice. "After the communists assumed control of the North in 1954, they confiscated most of the family's property, including their Buddhist sanctuary and their medical tools. the communists targeted his father for harsh persecution because of his political affiliation, and in 1956 drove him to commit suicide. Phuc was able to attend school but was denied admission to university or other institutes of higher education. In order to improve his political background, he volunteered for the Army in 1966, despite the ongoing war against the French, but found he still encountered discrimination.

"After his military service, he joined a Hanoi art company as a painter in 1973, where he worked for six years. Because his personal style conflicted with the style dictated by the communist party, he was never accorded the status of a government employee with the attendant benefits.

"In 1979, with the help of well known painters he had befriended, he managed to gain entrance to a university art program in Hanoi. He became a vocal critic of the militarization of the school and the officially sanctioned artistic styles promoted by the schools administration. He was censured and threatened with dismissal.

"During a school holiday Phuc and a friend accepted a commission from the Catholic Archbishop of Hanoi to produce a large number of the statues of the Madonna and Jesus for distribution to churches throughout Vietnam. They had completed 360 statues when they were discovered by the public security forces and jailed.

"Phuc argued with his interrogators he had done nothing wrong. When they accused him of working for a reactionary organization, he demanded to know what about Catholic church was a reactionary organisation and prohibited people from working for it. The police, aware of his family background, accused him of having 'inherited reactionary tendencies: from his father.'

"Phuc's characteristic intransigence may have been a factor in the police releasing him a week later. However, he was dismissed from his university, and placed under police surveillance. The authorities revoked his residence permit, and assigned him to forced labor for a period of time. He was subsequently unable to work as an artist, and struggled to support his family by working as a casual laborer for private businesses and making sweets.

"During this time he continued painting at his in-laws home, where he and his family stayed after the authorities prohibited them from living in their own house. In 1986, the police searched the house, confiscating his art materials and paintings. Phuc was again jailed for his 'degenerate' and 'reactionary' paintings, this time for two days. The paintings in question were nude studies, strictly prohibited by the regime."

Results of Incident: "In 1988 an explosion went off in front of the family's home, harming a member of the British Embassy who was a friend of his wife's youngest sister. The police never revealed who was responsible for the explosion, but they detained his family briefly, accused them of having 'illegal relations with foreigners.' Those family members who held government jobs, including Phuc's wife, were fired. Finally, the entire family was ordered deported from Hanoi to a remote 'new economic zone' for resettlement. At this point, Phuc and his family made the decision to flee."

Source: Human Rights Watch/Asia Watch, "Vietnam:Repression of Dissent", March 4, 1991 Vol. # 3 Iss. # 8