Censorship Snapshot: Image of Authority 

Linh Le speaks to Dat Vu, a Ho Chi Minh City-based artist who works mainly with photography, about his experience with censorship.

Dat Vu is a Ho Chi Minh City-based artist who works mainly with photography. Having lived and studied abroad for about 10 years, he returned to Vietnam in 2016. His work, often featuring snapshots of everyday people, urban landscapes, and modern architecture, reflects the artist’s exploration of his own identity, and is characterised by his focus on masculinity, sexuality, and nationalism.

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Linh Le (LL): Have you ever been censored before? 

Dat Vu (DV): Yes, I have.

LL: Could you tell me more about those challenges?

DV: The most memorable incident was back in 2018, when I was selected to join a residency programme in the west of Ho Chi Minh City. During that time, I got into trouble with the authorities for using the image of the leader [former prime minister and president Ho Chi Minh].  

LL: How did you feel when you were censored? 

DV: At the time my feelings went through three stages: before, during, and after the censorship. Before the incident, I thought a lot about involving or using such iconography in my practice. Through my work, I wanted to engage with the mechanism of censorship. I was well aware of the risks in doing so, but I still chose to go forward with it. However, I wasn’t aware of the levels and the implications of such risks. Only during that incident, did I become aware of how serious it was. What worried me the most was that I could affect other people, especially the organisers who gave me the opportunity to participate in the residency. Now in hindsight, I have put it in the past. It actually took me a year to feel comfortable, and to not be paranoid about being watched or monitored. 

 LL: What is censorship to you?

DV: I think censorship happens at different levels. If we are talking about the official definition, censorship is an action, a mechanism developed by the authority with power. There are many aspects to censorship. But I think, sometimes it’s clear, other times it’s not. There are rules that I think everyone knows, and then in some cases, they are so unexpected. 

LL: Do you think censorship is necessary?

DV: I think it goes both ways [it can be both necessary and unnecessary]. It is meaningless to think about whether it is necessary or not, since it already exists. It is a default condition for cultural and creative activities here [in Vietnam]. Hence, it’s difficult to think about the necessity of it, or even meaningless to do so. What matters more, is to think about how we can live and work with it. 

This content is produced as part of a project to research and document arts and culture censorship in Southeast Asia, organised by ArtsEquator. For other articles in this project, click here.

About the author(s)

Linh Le (b.1993) is a curator, researcher and writer from Vietnam.

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