Culture Vulture (June, 27 2012)
Anti-slavery campaigners MTV Exit held an art exhibition in Ha Noi in mid-May to raise awareness of the problem. Artists Phan Y Ly, Doan Hoang Kien and independent photographer Na Son informed audiences about the situation of human trafficking in Viet Nam through films, music, installation art and photography.
Na Son's photos entitled Ma Vach (Bar Code) impressed the public when the faces of the people in his photos are hidden by bar codes usually seen on supermarket products as a warning about the evil business spreading to mountainous Ha Giang. He talks about his exhibition.
How the idea of the exhibition came to your mind?
I believe a photo must have a strong message to become a true artwork. I had been in Ha Giang Province several times to take photos of victims of human trafficking, but I was not very satisfied of the result.
The photos I took only portray the people, but I wanted to do more. I wanted the public to be shocked when they saw the photos. I wanted them to immediately understand the message - and the warning.
Luckily, one day, I noticed the bar-code glued to the back of a new book had I just bought. The idea of using it in my photo pictures came immediately to my mind.
The photos on display feature women and children, even though in many parts of the world, boys and men are also bought and sold. But the stories of children and women are familiar in Viet Nam and bring strong emotions to the surface. When those unlucky destinies are exposed together, the dark picture of reality clearly emerges.
How long did you spend preparing for the exhibition?
I have nourished the idea since 2006 when a brutal kidnapping of children took place in Ha Giang which borders China. The event shook the public.
On the night of December 10, at Sung Chang Commune, Yen Minh District, human traffickers suddenly broke into the house of Giang Pa Giao and killed him and his wife. They then grabbed their two little children who were later sold on the other side of the border.
Several similar attacks happened in the region. I told myself that I would have to do something.
Shane Lee, communication director of MTV Exit, said Bar Code was one of the most impressive exhibitions his organisation has held. For the exhibition, they used my bar-code idea in a music video they made with several Vietnamese artists to raise awareness and increase prevention of human trafficking.
You've been in different remote mountainous regions including Ha Giang, Lao Cai and Sa Pa several times and keep coming back there to take photos and meet people. How have those travels changed your life?
The more I travel, the more I understand life. I not only appreciate the beauty of the landscapes in those regions but also the kindness of their inhabitants. I love those people who stay friendly, gentle and spontaneous despite the difficulty of their life. I've also changed a bit my habit of taking photos. Now I take more photos of people and their daily life than the photos of beautiful landscapes.
Have you ever found occasions to help the victims?
The fact that I take photos of them and expose the photos can contribute to raising awareness about the problem of human trafficking. I will go back to Ha Giang soon with employees from the International Co-operation Department under the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, to get to know more about the life of the victims featured in the exhibition.
The department wants to help them set up some co-operatives to improve their lives. Some sponsors also promised me that they would co-operate with me to help victims. — VNS