by Bich Huong
For 10 years, a 72-year-old man in southern Tay Ninh Province made hundreds of concrete faces of crime victims and placed them on the ground in the garden of his house.
His idea was to teach his children and their friends not to do wrong.
Many of the masks display bloody wounds or scary expressions. They fill more than 1,000 square metres of space in a garden in Truong Tay Commune, Hoa Thanh District.
Explaining his strange hobby, Pham Chung said he wanted to portray the pain that victims of crime suffer, including the victims of traffic accidents, murder, suicides and drug abuse.
His garden also contains the graves of Chung's grandparents. Chung also made mummy-like statues to represent them.
A local resident, Nguyen Van That, said people who passed by the garden could easily see the statues because there were no fences or gate.
"We are scared of them," he said, emphasing that the bloody faces clearly upset many children as they looked so terrifying.
Chairman of Truong Tay Commune People's Committee Truong Van De said that in the last few months, local residents had begun to complain about the presence of "the horrible faces" that haunt them.
"People have asked for them to be removed," he said, adding that local authorities had complied.
He said that the district's cultural department examined the statues and decided that those that were too violent had to be destroyed. They quoted Government Decision 103/2009/CP-QD issued in 2009 which bans the use of violent products.
However, there are some public doubts about the decision. Some ask just how Chung violated regulations, claiming that his own privacy was being violated.
Ha Noi student Do Thi Thanh Tam said Chung should not have to remove the statues. "Some people are scared of them, but others might feel excited," she said.
She added that visitors to Suoi Tien Amusement Park in HCM City had to pay money to see Levels of Hell which portrays the punishment meted out to sinners when they die.
Lawyer Bui Quoc Tuan, a member of the HCM City Bar Association, said that because Chung made and placed the masks on his own land for personal entertainment, not for public display or commercial purposes, he did not violate Decision 103 which oversees the management of public cultural services.
He said that Chung was free to make and place the masks anywhere on his land, noting that it would be illegal for the authority to force him to remove them.
Artist Le Thiet Chuong told Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper that Chung's creations may or may not be considered cultural, but they were not meant to scare people.
He said Spanish artist Picasso had paintings which made people tremble, for example, a face with seven noses, eight mouths and 29 teeth.
This writer understands how people in Truong Tay Commune feel when they see the "horrible faces" as they pass Chung's garden. However, we should respect his right to privacy. It is his hobby, he does it on his land and the statues harm no one.
However, it would be better if there was a fence surrounding the garden. But why should Chung have to spend money to prevent people from being frightened?
In the spirit of compromise, Chung has now agreed to remove some of the masks - or change the worst of them so they look more normal. — VNS