Sarah and Phong Nguyen

Sarah Nguyen is a multimedia artist living and working in rural Missouri. Her exhibition, Break into Blossom, is based on a thought experiment: how would the world have turned out differently if the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945 had never exploded? In Nguyen’s reimagining, Little Boy turns out to be a dud, and instead of detonating, passes through a cherry tree, lands with a thud, and over the years gathers moss and lichen, where we encounter it today in an artificial pastoral setting in the UCM Gallery of Art & Design, surrounded by cherry blossoms.


Break Into Blossom is an artistic visual interpretation of the story “Einstein Saves Hiroshima” from the book Pages from the Textbook of Alternate History by Mizzou Professor Phong Nguyen. In the story, Einstein refuses to sign the letter written by his friend and fellow scientist Leo Szilard which, would galvanize support for the Manhattan Project. The project proceeds underfunded, and what would have been a nuclear weapon (the bomb Little Boy) is a dud that, instead of detonating over the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, passes through a cherry tree and lands with a thud, rolling and settling, then over the years gathering moss and lichen. The finished piece is a painted, life-size sculpture of Little Boy, surrounded by cherry blossoms from cherry blossom trees (represented in Tyvek hand cut-paper scrolls that hang from the ceiling).

Break into Blossom took a year to create. Every mark on the sculpture and cut on the three 20-foot scrolls, was done by hand. Artist/ sculptor Justin Shaw created the structure of “Little Boy,” which is built to scale of the actual bomb (10 feet). The sculpture is made from contrition foam, and is hand painted and aged with moss and pigments. Sarah Nguyen hand cut the 3-20 foot scrolls and painted the sculpture. The piece has an audience interaction component where there are blossoms available for viewers to write their wishes for the future and place them on the piece itself. These blossoms will be collected for a future piece.

Break Into Blossom causes us to reexamine the past and ask “what if?” The aged, moss-covered and undetonated “Little Boy” is a testament to what might-have-been. We are all aware of living in a time when brash actors or irresponsible leadership could draw us into actions and policies that we will one day have cause to regret. To think and rethink the actions of our past is an important step towards acting righteously and intentionally in the future. The hope is that visitors come away feeling thoughtful about the past, present, and future, and experience a bit of whiplash at the realization that we live in the reality we do, and, just maybe, work towards creating a better reality.