Lawsuits, confusion taint local art contests

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Tran Tuy's Khuc dong ca (a children's song) (Under), which was eerily reminiscent of photographer Duy Anh's Tiep buoc cha ong (Follow in the ancestor's footsteps) (Above).

Since the list of award-winning works were announced in June, a provincial literature and arts contest in central Vietnam has received several petitions of denouncement regarding a policy which allows members of the jury board to submit their own works for consideration.

Pham Truong Sinh, member of Nghe An Province's association of Literature and Arts, made himself known earlier this month by filing a lawsuit against the province's People's Committee for its December 13 decision regarding the jury board of the 4th Ho Xuan Huong Awards for Literature and Art.

The contest is held every five years.

The confusion began with a decision released November 22, 2010 stating that in order to maintain fairness, members of the jury board would not be allowed to submit their works to the competition.

However, on December 13 of the same year, the committee appeared to change its mind based on a proposal from the province's Literature and Arts Union. Official document No. 4 effectively reversed the November 22 decision on December 30, affirming once again that jury board members could indeed compete at the event.

But further inspection revealed that document No. 4 was not composed by the union, but by a member of the prize directing board, Nguyen Thi Phuoc.

According to Sinh, Phuoc abused her authority by signing the document, as the board does not have jurisdiction to act as an advisor to the committee.

Therefore, the decision on December 30 was improper because the committee's decision was actually made by a single individual.

In addition, in the photography category, the two award-winning works look like replicas, though they were taken by two different photographers: Sy Minh, a member of the jury board and Tran Duy Ngoan.

Minh's four photos: Nuoc mam Ngu Hai (Ngu Hai fish sauce), Ban cung nha nong (friends of farmers), Thuyen ve lach Van (boats heading to Van canal) and Le hoi den tho vua Quang Trung (Emperor Quang Trung Temple Festival) were submitted to the photo festival in the central province of Thua Thien Hue in 2007 and printed in the photography book Tinh dat, tinh nguoi (Love of land, love of people) published by Nghe An in 2006.

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However, the four photos also appear in Tran Duy Ngoan's book Vietnam que huong toi (Vietnam, my fatherland) and won prize B at the Ho Xuan Huong Awards.

However, the inspector of the province's Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, explained that "Tran Duy Ngoan's photo book is still legal as long as Sy Minh doesn't proceed with a lawsuit regarding the copyright."

Member of the jury board Sy Minh, who won prize A at the contest, was quoted by Tuoi Tre newspaper as saying, "Ngoan and I took the photos together and that's why the two look alike."

Whereas, Ngoan said, "It is normal for two photographers who went shooting together to create similar works."

Such occurrences are commonplace within the Vietnamese art scene these days.

In September, the Southeast region photo festival, held in the southern province of Binh Duong, raised several questions when first prize for photography went to Tran Tuy for his submission, Khuc dong ca (a children's song), which was eerily reminiscent of Duy Anh's Tiep buoc cha ong (Follow in the ancestor's footsteps).

Tiep buoc cha ong was awarded the gold medal at the Mekong Delta photo festival in 1998 and best prize by the association of Vietnam Artistic Photographers in 1999.

According to photographer Tran Vinh Nghia from Binh Thuan Province, the two photos are similar in light, lay-out, and character and differ only in background. Duy Anh's work was shot in a studio, whereas Tran Tuy's work was produced at a cemetery for war martyrs.

According to photographer Pham Van Binh of the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong, some among the jury board did acknowledge the similarities between the two photos; however Khuc dong ca won the gold medal nonetheless.

Member of the jury board, well-known photographer Dao Hoa Nu, explained that Khuc dong ca won the prize because it was the best photo submitted.

The Ho Xuan Huong lawsuit and other cases have raised questions about the qualifications and criteria of prizes for art in Vietnam after a copycat scandal rocked the National Youth Fine Arts 2011 in Hanoi.

The festival's organizer eliminated Do Trung Kien's painting Cho xu ly (Wait to be treated), as the work differed only in colors and minor details when compared to Nguyen Quang Hai's 2010 painting, Phuot II (Backpacking tour II), which was displayed at Hai's master's degree graduation ceremony in Russia in May of that same year.

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