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about this work

At first glance, the Day-Glo palette, lively composition, and exaggerated figures of Peter Saul’s Saigon seem cartoon-like, even whimsical. But the painting offers a biting critique of American policy during the Vietnam War. In a war-torn environment that includes uprooted palm trees, a river of blood, and a spiked American bomb, Saul depicts a voluptuous Vietnamese girl who has been trussed and labeled “Innocent Virgin.” A couple of American GIs are shown drinking Coca-Cola as they rape, dismember, and torture the girl’s family. The chaos is heightened by Saul’s rendering of the figures, including a headless, three-star officer in blue, two blasted Vietcong guerillas, and a nightmarish profusion of body parts. In the canvas’s lower corners, old-fashioned Oriental-style letters spell out “White Boys Torturing and Raping the People of Saigon: High Class Version”—emphasizing Saul’s condemnation of the war’s hypocrisies.

 

Peter Saul, Saigon, 1967  69.103
Peter Saul, Saigon, 1967. Enamel, oil, and synthetic polymer on canvas, 92 3/4 × 142 in. (235.6 × 360.7 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Friends of the Whitney Museum of American Art  69.103 For Teachers