Dao An Khanh is among a handful of prominent artists who in recent years have tested the very borders of legitimate artistic expression in Viet Nam.

Not so many years ago Vietnamese artists needed to be acutely aware of their place in the revolutionary toolbox - i.e. promoting the rather austere values of the revolution.

All artistic expression in Viet Nam is being screened for approval - or rejection - by officials from the Ministry of Culture. Khanh used to be one such official - but not any more.

Khanh has established a big, surreal outdoor studio at a vast piece of land in Gia Lam right on the other side of the Red River. Visitors are advised right from the start of Khanh's notorious focus:

A six foot vagina in ceramics is greeting visitors, before they enter Khanh's garden, which is also known for the 'love nests', he has built in his trees, 12 feet above the ground.

"You are welcome to borrow a nest for the weekend, if you bring your own woman," Khanh jokes and winks at his personal muse.





Two of Khanh's young actors - and in the background Khanh's very own muse in yet another painting.


Khanh has acquired a huge, traditional stilt house from one of the ethnic minorities, who often work with him. The house has been taken piece by piece to Gia Lam and rebuilt on Khanh's land.

His works are everywhere on the premises. Giant transparent bodies, made of bamboo and plastic, look like they are floating in his trees. Sculptures tower eight meters in the air - looking very much like male pride on display.

Khanh is obviously becoming a wealthy man. A New York Times feature about him is nailed to the wall, and his prices are going up dramatically. The asking price for his oil paintings are now USD 5.000 and above - bear in mind that the official salary is 300 USD a month for the officials that keep an eye on his activities. Outside his stilt house he has parked his new toy - a renovated wartime jeep, complete with short wave radio.

Full moon performance

Every year at full moon in February Khanh launches a performance, which these days attract thousands of visitors. He is competing with himself in shocking the rather conservative establishment of the capital. People are still talking with a mixture of wonder and disdain about last year's performance, where Khanh performed utterly naked with his body painted green.

So I went there one sunny Sunday morning in February for the very last rehearsal of "Life Begins".

It proved to be one of the more interesting opportunities I have had to capture modern Viet Nam on camera:

thomasbopedersen  2012