Student's thesis broaches taboo

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A 3-D photograph of model Quynh Trang in a glowing dress made entirely of condoms.

Nguyen Minh Tuan has been shocking friends and acquaintances for the last few months by telling them that his graduation thesis is about condoms.

The baby-faced Tuan, who prefers to be called Tuan Khoa because it sounds more "masculine," tells Thanh Nien Weekly, "Whenever I talk about [it], people repeat "˜Are you crazy?' and "˜You are insane' over and over again."

But the final-year graphic design student at Ho Chi Minh City's Van Lang University says: "The more people dissuade me, the harder I try, since the condom has been heavily stigmatized in our society. Why do people know that it is needed but still associate it with debauchery?"

Tuan's project, called "Condom Normalization Campaign," seeks to promote awareness of safe sex among the younger generation and generally familiarize people with condoms.

This is his second shot at a thesis after giving up on the first half-way through after realizing it may not serve his purpose.

Tuan says both were inspired by experiences in his own family: he is too embarrassed to explain the violence part but says his sister became pregnant very young. "I do not want to see it happen in any other [family]," he says.

"I want to make people familiar with and comfortable about talking about, buying, and using condoms, though it is not easy.

"Just imagine how angry parents will be when seeing a condom in their child's pocket.

"I am waiting for sponsorship from governmental medical organizations to expand my project. They have contacted me."

The 24-year-old and Ngoan Nguyen, a third-year student of fashion design at the same university, met every night to create a dress completely from condoms. During the day Tuan worked part-time at a tourism agency and Nguyen had school.

They shrugged off whispers and gossip in the neighborhood and remained fiercely focused on their project.

"It took us a lot of time to turn condoms into fashionable material. But finally the dress was ready.

"Nguyen helped me a lot though we are not really friends before starting. We also succeeded in making the dress glow without lights unlike some local designers." 

Tuan is proud that his teachers rate his as the best thesis this year.

It includes two TV commercials, a 3D fashion photo collection, and some cinemagraphs still images that contain animation elements he created for the first time in Vietnam.  

The cinemagraphs, the high point of his thesis, comprising five photos, took him more than a month since he had to make their animation smooth.

He coaxed some famous singers, actors, and models to wear his dress and appear in the ads.

"All yours effort could go down the drain if there is even a tiny mistake. Fortunately, I did not make any while creating complex layers for the cinemagraphs."    

Tuan defends his thesis on December 26. He says there will be a "big surprise" then, but obviously will not yet divulge more.

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