Vietnam warns against 'inappropriate' statues after nude sculpture cover-up

HANOI (Reuters) - Vietnam’s culture ministry has issued a directive against “inappropriate” statues after images of godlike sculptures with animal heads and human genitalia stoked controversy.

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The statues on display at a holiday resort in the city of Hai Phong, have had their offending parts modestly covered up with bikinis and other swim wear, but that has only added to the interest in them.

“We actually didn’t want to cover the statues because it’s art, but we wanted to show that we listen,” said Nguyen Trung Thanh, vice director of the Hon Dau International Tourism Company, which owns the statues.

Despite sweeping economic reforms and increasing openness toward social change and ubiquitous internet fare, Communist-ruled Vietnam maintains a conservative attitude towards sex and nudity.

The cover-up the offending bits of the statues attracted even more attention with pictures of the more modest displays going viral online.

One male statue with a horse’s head had been dressed in what appeared to be a red miniskirt. Another, with a goat’s head, had been clad a tight pair of green swimming briefs.

“We covered them up, but only the parts of the body people find offensive,” Thanh told Reuters by telephone.

“They’re supposed to be naked”.

Thanh’s company later swapped the sculpture swim wear for plastic leaves and fruit.

“Their fashion changes even faster than the weather,” Facebook user Le Tam joked.

But the culture ministry was not amused.

“The recent construction and display of statues and symbols have had contents and forms that are inappropriate to Vietnamese culture,” the ministry said in its directive, published on its website.

The ministry did not single out the Hai Phong statues in the text of its directive but posted a picture of the 12 statues.

The statues had a negative impact on the “cultural environment” and “aesthetic taste” of society, the ministry added.

Thanh said his company had monitored visitors’ responses to the statues when they were first put up some five years ago but had seen no objections.

“Some were taking pictures, some were laughing, some were shy and turned away but no one was responding harshly,” said Thanh, adding there were no plan to remove though they had been designated as an “18+” attraction.

Writing by James Pearson; Editing by Robert Birsel