Artistic Freedoms
Vietnamese couple pursue a dream in Westminster
By Jeffrey Brody (the Orange County Register)
July 02, 1990



Mayor of Westminster, California - Mr. Frank Fry together with Dr. Tran Ngoc Ninh, MD & Westminster city councilman - Tony Lam, cut the red ribbon on BeKy's 1998 Exhibition at the gallery of Nguoi Viet Daily News.

At one time, Be Ky and Ho Thanh Duc were among Vietnam's most prominent artists, exhibiting their work at international shows, but when the Communists took control of their country in 1975 they found they couldn't paint at all.

The husband and wife team were jailed, harrassed and threatened by authorities who wanted them to change their style.

But now, after leaving their homeland in December, the couple is eagerly back at work in a small apartment on Bolsa Ave. in Westminster overlooking a Vietnamese restaurant and shopping center.

"We've had an explosion of creativity," Duc said, pointing to the pictures that clutter their living room entrance way and hang on almost every wall of their home.

"We could do anything to survive in Vietnam," Ky said. "Sell vegetables in the market. Eat rotten fish. But to draw we had to be able to express our feelings. We couldn't. So, we left."

Their art work, stifled in Vietnam, has flourished in Orange County's Little Saigon. Ky and Duc have completed more paintings - 21 - in the past six months in the United States than in their last 14 years in Ho Chi Minh City, the new name for Saigon. Before leaving Vietnam on a humanitarian visa, Ky and Duc languished in Ho Chi Minh City, completing only seven works since the Communist conquest in 1975.

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Children celebrate moon festival

Ky, 52, an eternal optimist who excels in Chinese-style ink painting, and the more somber Duc, 50, who's known for dark brooding collages, said they couldn't adjust to the socialist-realism style of painting - glorifying workers and peasants in factories and fields.

"I could not paint the way they wanted," Ky said. "I remember a cadre (a Communist official) showing me a style of painting he liked. It was terrible and dishonest." The two, who were arrested for trying to flee Vietnam, stopped working rather than produce a style that compromised their integrity. They preferred poverty over acceptance by party officials.

But they haven't been able to stop working now that they've settled in the United States with three of their four children. Another daughter, also an artist, chose to stay in Vietnam with her husband. Every morning after preparing tea, Ky and Duc move into the open-air, makeshift studio on their apartment terrace.

Dressed in a silk blouse, black slacks and sandals, Ky sits on a small stool before an easel next to a bottle of China black ink. She sweeps across the silk canvas with broad brush strokes to create drawings of Vietnamese villages and family life. Portraits of mothers and children dominate her work. She loves to portray boys and girls hugging their mothers or babies cuddling at their mothers' breasts...

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41 Years with Beky

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Media recognition

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Mother and child

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Cycle rickshaw