“A Lotus in a Sea of Fire” is part of a body of photographic work created in conjunction with Nguyen’s recent video project “The Boat People.” This photograph takes its title from “The Lotus in a Sea of Fire,” a book written by Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn, who was nominated by Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for the Nobel Peace Prize. Hahn explains to a Western audience the self-immolation of Thích Quảng Đức and fellow Vietnamese Buddhist monks that year. Duc’s act of protest drew international attention to the political situation in Vietnam and galvanized domestic opposition to the repressive, American-backed Diem regime.
Nguyen notes: “There’s a way that spiritual practices, specifically in Vietnam, have been embedded with strategies of political resistance. Fire and self-immolation have been well known acts of political resistance where the spiritual and the political collide. Fire becomes a strong metaphor for freedom and liberation, spiritual and political. This is exemplified in Thich Quang Duc’s act of self-immolation. The image of this action has been burnt deeply into my own psyche. A collision between the spiritual and the political - the struggle for freedom.”