Could Vietnam be the newest gay mecca? In Hanoi, a photograph exhibit depicting same-sex couples has attracted thousands since it went on view in December.
On view at Hanoi’s Vincom Towers until January 12, “Open – Equal – Love” is a collection of works by photographer Maika Elan organized by the Institute of Society, Economy and Environment (iSEE), a Vietnamese LGBT-rights group.
Despite the country’s conservative social mores, organizers say the response to the show has been positive: “To many people, this is the first time they have seen images and got information about homosexuals in public,” iSEE communication officer Vu Phuong Thao told Gay Star News. “Staff at the exhibition have seen no one openly reject the exhibition or show a negative attitude towards the photographs.”
Elan told the New York Times she gave up trying to take posed portraits of gay couples in public settings, as neither her subjects nor onlookers were comfortable.
She sought private moments instead — where her subjects would be free from stares and criticism, and less inclined to dramatize their relationship. Moments when they forgot she was there.
“When I take these photos, the most important thing is I have to believe in that moment,” Ms. Elan said. “If it doesn’t give me that feeling, then I don’t take the photo.”
“Some people have been angry, and say it’s not enough” Elan told the Times. “They want to see more activity and they asked me why my photos are so sad. They want to see more happy moments.”
“I don’t think you have to have a happy smile,” she said, “if you’re beside the person you love.”
In August, Vietnam held its first Pride festival, and lawmakers in the Communist country are considering recognizing gay marriage. Whether these efforts are a legitimate change from past human-rights abuses or simply pinkwashing of a different color remains to be seen.
Photos courtesy MoST artists