Censorship Snapshot: Unclear Guidelines

Artist Ngo Dinh Bao Chau shares her experience with the ambiguous censorship guidelines in Vietnam with curator Linh Le.

Based in Ho Chi Minh City, artist Ngo Dinh Bao Chau’s practice centres around the transforming of everyday Vietnamese objects and symbols, re-imagining how we might look at them. 

In 2020, a painting by the artist, Những Đoạn Trích (2019), was to be exhibited at the No Cai Bum 2020: An Art Festival in Hue. When the organisers applied for the required exhibition licence, Ngo’s work was rejected for violating Clause 8 of the Decree 23/2019/2019 NĐ-CP for Exhibition Activities. The painting was said to have been rejected for depicting two stars descending from the sky. The star is  a symbol that is often associated with political representations such as national flags and military ranks. The work was deemed sensitive by the licensing board at the time. 

Thirteen other works by other artists slotted to appear in the same exhibition were allegedly also rejected during the licence application process. The festival organisers ended up showing all the rejected works, including Ngo’s, at a private venue, The X Room. News about this private showing was circulated amongst the community through social media messages, a few days before the closing of the exhibition. 

Hear in her own words, Ngo Dinh Bao Chau’s feelings about the way that censorship is enacted in Vietnam, in an interview conducted by curator and researcher Linh Le. The video is in Vietnamese, with a condensed, edited version of the interview translated into English below. 

This video can be watched here or on YouTube.


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

Ngo Dinh Bao Chau (NDBC): I was censored before, when I exhibited my work. 

LL: Could you tell me more about those challenges?

NDBC: They were indirect challenges. I did not work directly with any agency that had the authority to censor, I was only informed [about it] by the exhibition organisers. 

LL: What do you think could be the reasons for censoring your work?

NDBC: At times, the information wasn’t communicated to me clearly. Now sitting here, I guess that those artworks may have had one of the elements that are on the “sensitive” list, which the censors deem inappropriate for public display. They decided not to give the licence to show those works in the exhibition. 

LL: How did you feel about it?

NDBC: I didn’t feel too upset or anything serious, since my experience of censorship took place within a big group exhibitions that had many different activities. I was just a part of the show, so if my works did not get a licence, I’d take them down and put them back in storage, to avoid affecting the entirety of the event. I felt normal.

LL: What is censorship to you?

NDBC: In my opinion, censorship on a personal level is a denial, or refusal to acknowledge [certain ideas]. For the authorities, it is a list of sensitive things from which they decide what is and is not suitable for public display. However, the list is not based on any clear mechanism. 

LL: Do you think censorship is necessary?

NDBC:  Personally, I think censorship is necessary. If it were not needed, it would not have been practiced everywhere, even within ourselves, in small communities, or in governmental and authoritative institutions. I think there is a need for it, so people created censorship. However, for further development [of the arts scene], there should be some clarity. It should have clearer and more transparent regulations. It should not depend on the censor’s emotions or subjectivity.

Video Credits: 

This interview was recorded on 21/11/2022, in Ho Chi Minh City. 

Videographer/director: Tran Vu Minh Phuc 

Video Edited by Tran Vu Minh Phuc

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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