Conceptual similarities with foreign artworks were discovered by fellow artists
A Vietnamese creative artist who rose to prominence with his multiple art projects on life in Ho Chi Minh City has been slammed for plagiarizing artworks by foreign artists.
Nguyen Manh Khoi, better known as Maxk Nguyen, is a prominent creative artist and art director in Vietnam.
Maxk came to public attention in February, when his typographic project inspired by Vietnamese street food went viral on social media.
In the photos, world celebrities were seen alongside the stylized Vietnamese words “Vit Lot, Vit Dua, Cut Lon,” which stand for duck balut, smelly duck egg and quail balut.
Maxk was also credited as the co-creator of the “Sai Gon Sau Vai” (Saigon Behind Shoulders) and “Sai Gon Ba Met Vuong” (Saigon in Three Square Meters) projects, which depict Ho Chi Minh City residents from all walks of life going on with their daily activities, and offer viewers a nostalgic vibe of the good old days.
His solo project Saigon Emoji has been praised for its unique perspective and creative touch on the regular moments of lifestyle in Ho Chi Minh City.
However, the originality of Maxk’s works has come under scrutiny since Tuesday last week, when prominent Vietnamese illustration artist Hieu Chau (Sith Zam) took to Facebook to reveal the stunning similarity between one of his artworks and a previous one done by a foreign artist.
In both graphics, a blood bag is labeled with a popular refreshment franchise, humorously suggesting that the drink is essential for survival.
The post has been “liked” by over 2,000 Facebook users so far, leading droves of other people to point out many other similarities in Maxk’s projects with ones by international artists.
Some of his works were even found to be exact replicas of the original pieces, without him giving any credit to their respective creators.
In an interview with local news aggregator Kenh 14 published days later, Maxk completely dismissed the case as plagiarism, defending his works as having either coincided in ideas with previous ones or received permission for replication from the original artists.
Maxk only admitted to having been careless in not crediting authors of the “stock photos” he had found on the Internet.
Nevertheless, other Vietnamese artists accused Maxk of lying after they had contacted the foreign artists involved and found that he had only asked for permission after the scandal.
An image that he claimed was a “stock photo” was also found to be the work of Norway-based illustrator Martine Strom, who had never authorized him to reuse her works.
“The problem is that Maxk has claimed works by other artists to be his own,” said illustrator Truong Huyen Duc. “That is wrong both legally and morally. In a larger sense, by the way he is responding to the scandal, Maxk is promoting the use of others’ intellectual property and considering it one’s personal work by adding a few visual effects.”
“Foreign artists or brands don’t often file lawsuits against Vietnamese plagiarizers because they still consider Vietnam to be a minor market that doesn’t matter much in the global creative community,” Duc explained.
For artist Khoa Le, the scandal could deal a blow to Vietnam’s young and growing graphic design and illustration industry, which has just recently made a name for itself in the global context.
“Many youths would look at [Maxk’s] case and think that they only need to copy works by other artists to survive and thrive in the industry,” Khoa Le said. “That could impact the future generation of Vietnamese creative artists in a very negative way.”
“For as long as young artists still hold on to the idea that they would not be held legally accountable for plagiarism because ‘Vietnam is too negligible’ or that intellectual property is a fancy term, we will not be making advancements in the creative industry any time soon,” Khoa Le said.
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