"The Memorial would not have been built without her central position in the fight to maintain the integrity of that design... It was her single-minded devotion to what she thought was right.” This was what Freida Lee Mock, the filmmaker, said regarding the stand of Maya Lin on the conflict over the Vietnam Veterans Memorial’s (VVM) design. Lin’s conviction, I think, was the heart of the whole documentary.
An Academy Award Winner for Best Documentary, ‘Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision’ focuses on a decade of the artist’s work since she entered the public sphere, having won the design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The film continues with her other works that have made great impact on social and political issues. Archival material such as old clips, contemporary footages and interviews were used by Mock to present how Maya Lin’s art became a tool to ‘confront, arouse, and ultimately heal’ (Smith 2002). Using the personal point of view of Lin, she explains the meaning behind her works and let the audience know how she came up with such designs and structures.
Maya Ying Lin is a Chinese American artist and architect. She grew up in Athens, Ohio and got her Bachelor’s Degree on Architecture and Master of Architecture in Yale University. As found in her own web site, “Maya Lin has been drawn to the critical social and historical issues of our time and addressed them in her memorials.” Some of her works that were featured in the film were the Civil Rights Memorial that served as a memorial to those who fought against racial discrimination, The Women’s Table as a symbol of the growing women’s representation in Yale University and Eclipsed Time that serves as a clock using light from the sun.
At the start of the film, numerous issues surfaced over the decision on the VVM’s design were presented. Conflict is the starting theme of the movie. The timing of the memorial’s creation was the primary source of these conflicts. Built on 1982, the Vietnam War was still ‘fresh’ on the minds of the people, especially those who participated on it. Battle scars, physically, mentally and emotionally, were not yet healed. The building of the memorial may have triggered negative emotions since the Americans lost the war. Instead of a symbol to honor the dead soldiers, it may be seen as symbol of USA’s loss. Another issue was that the veterans who decided to create a memorial were only one of the different factions of veterans. For others, building a memorial may not be the best way to honor these soldiers. Their conflicts stem from the different interpretations that they had, which is very usual in an artwork.
The meaning of the memorial was so great that I think Maya Lin’s minimalist design was enough for people to remember their loved ones. Having the names of the dead soldiers on a chronological order was also a central issue. I think this emphasized that the ‘wall’ was for personal grieving as it needed a personal connection to the dead for you to know his death year. Another theme is compromise. With different concerned parties giving their own take on the issue, it was inevitable that they ended up in a compromise, with no one actually winning. They were not able to change Lin’s design as a whole but the original design was mixed with the statue which some of the veterans wanted.
Lastly, the outstanding theme that can be found in the film is the role of women in a society. The start of her career was challenged when her design was criticized on the basis of her gender and race. The attack on her design became a personal hit on her as a woman. She eventually had her vendetta when she became one of the few women awarded with honorary doctorate degree in Yale University. She became the model of a woman who continuously makes a social impact with the work she does.
One thing that I noticed throughout the film was the maturity of the artist on her works. When Maya Lin made the VVM, she said that it is about the individuals who sacrificed themselves and the heroism of the soldiers. She focused mainly on the individual actors- the soldiers. She did not take into mind the social structures that will be affected with having a memorial about the Vietnam War. This may be the reason why so much violent reactions were heard afterwards. But with the Civil Rights Memorial, she took it as her responsibility to know the historical background of the artwork she was about to create. Before creating the design she said she needed to "understand conceptually what the piece is about or what its nature should be." This resulted with much appreciation from the people who were involved in the fight for civil rights.
Making an impact on society and politics is great. Doing this thru a work you are passionate about is even greater. Maya Lin used built structures to represent different issues throughout history, and along the way she has made her own stand regarding these critical issues. Maya Lin and Freida Lee Mock have been symbols for women who can make a change. Mock’s work of creating numerous film biographies tackles the subjects of arts and humanities.
A documentary film is a ‘reconstruction as authentic as it can be’. Mock used background sounds that help in triggering emotions on scenes where no lines were spoken. The film’s raw material was able to present the struggle and challenges in Lin’s career before getting where she is right now. She continually challenged the standards that were found in a society and in turn, she left a mark that allowed for more women to think that gender is not a hindrance to trigger social change. Her conviction proved that as an artist she has a strong and clear vision of how her art should be.
Rivera, K. G.
Maya Lin Studio. Retrieved on 5 February 2010 http://www.mayalin.com/
Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision. Retrieved from True Lives: http://www.amdoc.org/projects/truelives/pg_maya.html
Maya Lin Biography. Retrieved from Encyclopedia of World Biography: http://www.notablebiographies.com/Ki-Lo/Lin-Maya.html
Smith, C. (1 March 2002). Women who have made a mark. The Booklist. Retrieved from Proquest: http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?index=6&sid=3&srchmode=1&vinst=PROD&fmt=6&startpage=1&clientid=51710&vname=PQD&RQT=309&did=
Art as a medium of expression is a powerful tool. It is not limited to artists and artistic interpretations alone. Rather, art has the ability to reach anyone, and even become part of the political arena.
Whenever one speaks of an artwork’s meaning, it is inevitable that several interpretations may be attached to it. Different people see art in different ways. Generally speaking, people use art as a form of expressing their emotions, creativity, and as representation of an idea or concept, while there may be times where it is used as a medium of propaganda. The documentary on Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a perfect example as to how her primary purpose of expressing acknowledgement and remembrance of the American soldiers who fought the war has turned into a political scandal that has brought about several issues there were not part of the initial plan.
The documentary entitled, Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision is an Academy Award-winning film directed by Freida Lee Mock in 1994. It features the struggles of a then 21-year old architecture student named Maya Lin. In 1981, she graduated from Yale with a degree of Bachelor of Arts and received a degree of Master of Architecture in 1986. During her senior year in 1981, she entered a competition against 1,420 students in designing how the Vietnam Veterans Memorial would look like. Luckily, out of the different proposals submitted for the memorial design, hers was chosen. In my opinion, her concept, compared to those of others may be considered to be simple, yet profound in meaning. The design was said to be influenced by her Oriental background as many experts interpreted it as a depiction of the continuous cycle of life and death. In fact, it was mentioned that during an interview with the press, Lin said that her design is a symbolism of visual poetry where one goes through a journey from violence to serenity, which involves the experience of death. “It consisted of two walls, each approximately 250 feet long and comprised of 140 black marble panels. Beginning at ground level, the walls gradually descended to a depth of ten feet to meet at the vertex, forming a 125-degree angled V. The black walls would be chiseled with the 58,000 names of the Americans killed or missing in the war, listed in the order in which they became a casualty. There would be no inscription, no flag and no mention of Vietnam anywhere on the memorial” (Sampley,1997). However, her design was questioned by the war veterans as they believe that such symbolizes shame, rather than honour for the war they fought. According to them, the V-shape symbolizes peace, which is actually more in favour of the Vietnamese soldiers. Nevertheless, a compromise between Maya Lin’s design and what the soldiers wanted to see was made. In fact, there were even times when they had live confrontations on National TV to discuss the ongoing rift between them. Fortunately, both parties were able to adjust each other’s concerns and reached a compromise as to how the memorial would look like.
Maya Lin’s involvement in designing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was not like any other architect’s experience. Hers was full of controversies and issues that involved her private life. Instead of having a normal life just like any other college student, she was exposed to the real world. A world where critical judgement was seen as a normal thing. Not only was she questioned of her design’s credibility, but her Oriental roots and family situation were questioned, thus being exposed to the public. But Maya Lin was determined to make a difference. From a simple life that was all to herself, she now has to answer to the demands of the public. Every move and decision that she made both to herself and the memorial design was subject to every bit of criticism. What seems to be a fragile personality has now become stronger and ready to absorb whatever challenges there are.
Her idea of putting up a memorial for the war veterans is a way of giving recognition to the efforts of these soldiers who died fighting for their country. In this light, we see that death is given a different meaning, where it is not just about the loss, mourning and suffering. Instead, it signifies new life and victory. In fact, this was where art was seen not just as an expression of the artist’s individuality. Instead, it was used as a medium of reaching out to other people in recognizing and giving importance to what their countrymen have done for them.
Power has a way of controlling the way people think and act. Power is seen as a trophy that is put on a pedestal. As a result, there is always the fear of losing power. Just like the defeat of the Americans during the Vietnam War, these soldiers find the memory too bad to even remember. Yet power is not everything and long lasting. One day you have it, the next day it’s gone. And as a result, states become power hungry to the point of resulting in drastic measures in order to achieve it.
There are many ways on how we could recognize the efforts done by the people around us. Art is one perfect example of expressing such. However, we must remember that it is not how flamboyant and complex our ideas are. In the end, what is important is the intention and the message that we want to get across.
The product of art in the long run may tarnish or fall into pieces. But one thing is for sure. The memory that comes with it will never fade in the minds of the people.
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