Friday, February 5, 2010

Maya Lin A Strong Clear Vision: Personal Integrity Within The Socio-Political Context

"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

Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision. Retrieved from True Lives:

Maya Lin Biography. Retrieved from Encyclopedia of World Biography:

Smith, C. (1 March 2002). Women who have made a mark. The Booklist. Retrieved from Proquest:


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.

Francisco, D.

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tinborja said...

Reflective. Just when you thought that documentaries are these factual, long-drowned films with background narration, emotionless and non-appealing serving its purpose only in academic discussions, you see Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision and you’re whole perception on documentaries change.

This Academy Award winning-documentary about a sculptor and architect who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC tells the gripping story of a woman who revealed her ability to address major issues of our times through the healing power of art. Moving away from the usual notion of a documentary- that which is emotionless and distant-the film has proven to display emotional human responses thus providing good reason why it won the 1995 Academy Award for Best Documentary.

Indeed, for a documentary that talks about art- two things that drifts away from today’s pop culture- the intensity of the film to remind us of our morals and influence our political socialization is very apparent and strong. The fact that it touches our very being to remind us to live a life of advocacy, to live beyond the needs of our profession and in effect to influence change makes for it a complex and simple film that is filled with subtle ideologies breaking the boundaries of art for arts’ sake.

The way the film was made was unique in its very way, showcasing the biography of one woman who forwarded a silent form of activism, moves in the viewers a certain emotion that awakens our nationalistic tendencies to do something remarkable, memorable, that which is not for ourselves but for a higher cause- to forward our beliefs and principles and make it concrete and to stay in the line of humility for it is not for ourselves that we do all these, but for an ideology that pushes us out of our comfort zone to live a life of higher worth.

Providing a stronger mash between the overlap of the public and the private, the film has provided a woman’s private life to be shaken by the public sphere and context that she is in. Facing adversarial taunts when she first presented her artwork and concept for the Vietnam Memorial, she continued to push for her strong, clear, vision, thus leaving a mark in history that will serve to inspire many more after her.

Many-a man and woman have faced the opposing tides of the times, discriminated and questioned at the beginning, yet respected and honored in the end. The film, if there is one important moral that it will leave, shows that society respects not only the art you left behind, or the music that you’ve created, the film that you’ve made or the paper that you’ve published- these are just the ends of that which they truly admire- the story behind every success, behind every artwork, behind every cause, is that which drives society to respect and admire an individual’s principles. The blueprint behind every building, the sweat behind every structure, the pain behind every victory is that which makes private public and thus, make greater change.

For as long as no natural calamity or hazardous incident shall happen that might cause the downfall of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC, it will continue to touch the lives of many-a generation, it will continue to awaken a sense of nationalism attached to one’s history, it will continue to reverberate the mistakes and the lessons of the past and bring hope to whatever future is in stored as the story behind its making, the controversy behind the structure, and the vision etched in stone is revealed.

Oswald said...

As has been argued elsewhere, film as a product of a particular political and historical environment undergoes a process of mediation. It is an art whose final guise is influenced by multiple interventions. Film therefore is a mediated representation of reality. The attempt to integrate social realism and the subsequent development of “a codified system geared towards elucidating the effect of being proximate to an objective world of truth” obscure the existence of a mediation process, concealing the ideological assumptions of a particular production. Such observation is particularly interesting when talking about documentaries.

Consequently, this notion finds relevance when contrasting how the main entry for Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision (1994) has been structured vis-a-vis the other main entries for the earlier films. Main entries for the earlier films looked for symbolisms and allegories in the films and then translating them into larger issues. In Les 400 Coups, the main entry transcends the issue of difficult childhood to confront the dynamics of power. There is awareness that the Les 400 Coups underwent a mediation process, looking at the film in two levels: the mediated representation of reality and the “reality” per se, whatever that is.

The main entry for Maya Lin, on the other hand, appears as a direct examination of the “reality,” bypassing the nature of the film as a mediated representation of that reality. The development of the essays, for instance, appears to be in one level, making the mediated reality a part of the “reality” itself. This is not to say that such examination is wrong. In any case, it is interesting how the form of the film produces such effect; it somehow naturalizes the worldviews advocated in the film.

Taking a critical stance in the substantial presentation of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, one should question the way the film chose a particular position in the issue. By protagonizing Maya Lin in the film, it effectively constructs an almost antagonistic image of those who opposed her design for the said memorial. Considering art interpretation as subjective, one may question this reading (art as text) proposed by the documentary. Further, one may question why the interpretation of those against Lin’s design should not be adopted. This conundrum, by taking the documentary form, seems to avoid contention.

Another problem in relation to cinematic realism particularly in Maya Lin (and documentaries, in general) is its tendency to take a dictatorial plotline. Bill Nichols perhaps observed the same thing when he suggested that “fiction maybe content to suspend disbelief (to accept its world as plausible), but non-fiction often wants to instill belief (to accept its world as actual).” Fiction therefore admits its nature as a mediated representation of reality. Non-fiction (e.g. documentaries), on the other hand, circumvents the suggestion of “the extent to which they are truly human constructions.”

By looking at all forms of film as mediated representations/texts of reality, it can be argued that the fundamental difference between the earlier films and the film under consideration is not their subject (i.e. fictitious and not fictitious), rather the manner in which they are presented. Realism is therefore a textual effect used by filmmakers in telling a story.

Now then, we are left with only one question, how can we determine what is true and what is not in the film? This is a particularly difficult question since suggesting that something is a representation requires a knowledge (perhaps total knowledge) of the “reality” being represented, the exact reason why I refused to discuss the content of the film resorting instead to an examination of its documentary form. In the end, the more relevant question is whether there is such a thing as a real “reality” or even an objective RE-presentation of that reality.


remegio said...

Maya Lin: A strong Clear Vision, is a documentary that stars Maya Lin, a world renowned architect. The movie starts with the controversial design of the Vietnam Memorial which was design by Maya Lin who was then a student in the Yale University. The design was already staggering in the eyes of the traditionalists and the fact that Maya Lin was a she, an Asian and a student added salt to the wound. The movies did not only show how she came up with the design, but also the more important part which is how it came to be built. The documentary was able to depict a nobody challenging already established norms and standards and in the end standing as the victor. The movie then continues by showing the other works of art of the architect and how she was able to create a breach in the traditional standards of art. The movie is indeed a great documentary that can effectively make viewers believe in having their visions and pursue it at all costs. In short, it pushes the viewers to defy conventions and not to stick to traditional standards. However this documentary does not fully cover Maya Lin herself which weakens the impact of the film.
One thing that can be noticed in the film was that it was a documentary in the first place. It is expected to depict truthful information. But the extent through which movies recreate certain situation has its limitations. On the other hand it is somewhat shown in the movie that those who gave their criticism were antagonized and were presented to be in one sense or the other bad. The truth to which the claim of the movie in this particular aspect of the film is questionable because criticisms in the first places not at all bad. Another thing that the films presents which is to be expected of it since it is a documentary is that of its realist orientation. In comparison with the previous movie show, Les quatre cents coups, they are somewhat similar in the ides that they convey.

The overall theme of the movie was that of art and society. It provides an answer as to what should be the role of art in the civilized society. It emphasizes that art should be art that people can and will be able to relate with and not art just for art sake. On the other hand, it is a very inspiring film for budding professionals specially those in the field of arts. It is comparable to a fairy tale that it starts with an insecure student who won a national contest and this then transforms her into a sophisticated and confident professional.

The work of art being a public monument creates another dimension in itself because it infuses politics in to it. The monument being a public commemoration site makes it’s erection of a political one. Two of her works that were shown in the film touches on political issues one about civil rights and the other about the role of women in the Yale University. But these issues were not thoroughly discussed in the film.

The film was excellent in covering Maya Lin and her art works. The creators of the film were good in aggregating public thoughts and insights of Maya Lin herself into a single entity. But it is very unfortunate that she did not clearly emerge from the film. The coverage only talks about things that happened in the public and failed to include her private realm. Very little information was given about her parents. Testimonies from people who knew her well would contribute a lot. She was always on stage as she was made to appear in the film shielding the viewers from knowing her private side. Although the film suggests that she is an interesting person, it fails to tell us more.

Nons said...

What we have seen in Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision is a shining example of how person who stands by his/her beliefs could triumph over adversaries, no matter how grueling the process could be. Maya Lin became famous when at the age of 21; her design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was chosen. As all things could be, it has a highly politicized effect where various groups lobbied to either choose another design or remain with the original Maya Lin. We see here how each group—pro-Maya Lin design and the anti-Maya Lin design used their clout within the various sectors within the government and civil society to get the result they wanted. What happened in the end was a sort of compromise—the Maya Lin design remained true to the original while another set of statues served as the entrance to the memorial itself. There were also other Maya Lin designs that could be considered highly controversial such as that of the Civil Rights Memorial in Alabama and a less controversial one would be in the Women’s Table in Yale. It is evident in the documentary that those events were given less attention, though in we could undoubtedly argue that there is politicking in the choosing of the artist, during construction and post construction of those designs as well.

Standing by your beliefs is what Maya Lin, in the end, is really all about. If she hadn’t stood up for the design that she had made, her original message would not have been put across correctly, or might not have been present at all. Such courage in a girl her age is really exceptional given that she is fighting against veterans—not only of war but also of politics.

It is also important to note that what we had seen is a documentary film—not something made up but from real life. We had seen in the documentary only Maya Lin’s point of view which may be considered a very great bias against those who are against the memorial design. Throughout the whole film, we feel that we need to be sympathetic towards Maya Lin who is just a pawn in the game of politics in Washington and who is really dedicated to her art. But is it really the case? As in all films, we see here a bias in favor of the subject of the film. What would have happened if there were more clips showing the side of the veterans who are against the memorial? It doesn’t help that during the course of the documentary, we see the anti-Maya Lin design using harsh words and maligning her character and design. A documentary showing less of that very anti-Maya Lin leader would have helped the audience gain a better understanding of both sides of the debate.

In this course also, we need to understand what the goal of a documentary film is. Is it something that needs to remain impartial and leave the viewers to extract their views on the subject? Or are documentaries supposed to shape the opinions of the viewer and have them bent towards the bias of the film maker? More importantly, can a film maker even attempt to make a film be really impartial especially if the topic is that controversial or political? Only after answering those questions could we really analyze and understand a documentary film such as that of Maya Lin’s story.


lenggaleng said...


Freida Lee Mock’s Academy Award-winning 1994 documentary film, Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision, features a decade in the life and some remarkable works of a visionary sculptor and architect, Maya Lin. It especially follows all the politics and controversy behind the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, considered as one of the most bitterly disputed public monuments in American history, which was designed by the 21-year-old then Maya Lin. The film also shows a bit of Maya Lin’s personal life as she shares her childhood days and talks about her family.

Now looking at the themes that can be found in the film, I think that its central themes are determination, courage, integrity, commitment and passion. Moreover, I think that these themes are all connected with one another. One can see in the film that when Maya’s design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was highly criticized, she was determined to defend the integrity of her design. She was very courageous enough to face all the criticisms, protests and oppositions against her design. As she withstood all the challenges in winning the national competition for the design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, she fought for what she believes in, and that makes her as a person with integrity. Furthermore, one can also see in the film that she was really committed to her profession as an architect, as she really does her job very well by even studying the concept or the context first of what she is designing for. An example for this was when she was asked to design a memorial for those who died for Civil Rights and she studied about the Civil Rights period for months first before designing anything. This is a clear manifestation of how she is dedicated to her profession and obviously, she has passion for architecture as she even had a doctorate in her profession. She also mentioned that she loves the environment that she even joined a group or an organization that aims to promote turning a certain military base into a national park. One can see how she has passion for the environment.

lenggaleng said...


When it comes to looking at the film in a political perspective, I think that this documentary has the most evident political content of all the films that our class has ever watched. Not that it is because this film is a documentary that is why it is the most evidently political film, but it is the controversies found in here that are highly political, in my opinion. There are a lot of social issues that can be found in here such as racism and gender discrimination. Furthermore, the fight between those who oppose of Maya’s design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and those who are in favor of it is very political as both parties tried to seek help from the government, such as the Secretary on US Commission of Arts, to be the mediator of their fight. The feature on this Vietnam Veterans Memorial controversy made me see how dirty politics can really be. An example of this is when the detractors even accused one of the judges of the competition to be part of a Communist party. Those detractors even made fun of Maya Lin being an Asian in a certain editorial cartoon. Furthermore, they also criticized that the designer of the memorial was a female instead of a male. In these certain examples, it is obvious that there is a portrayal of politics in one’s gender and race, as these detractors have a bias in favor of the dominance of male and whites.

Politics is evidently portrayed in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Controversy as a conflict resolution through compromise and consensus. The detractors and those who are in favor of Maya’s design eventually came up with an agreement about adding a U.S. flag in the original design of the memorial. Both of the parties compromised for the other party’s demand, as those who are pro-Maya’s design wanted to keep the original design of the memorial and the detractors wanted to add a monument or a U.S. flag in it. In the end, both parties agreed that a U.S. flag would be put up at the entrance of the memorial and still, the original design would still be followed. Through this consensus and compromise, the dispute or conflict ended, and both of the parties were satisfied.

All in all, though the film was highly political for me, I still learned a lot of things from it. It inspired me to have goals and objectives and focus on reaching them. In addition, it made me appreciate art more and made me realize that a structure is not just a structure, because structures reflect one’s society. It tells us what we have been, who we are and what we will be in the future. Thus, an art always tells the story of the people.



Daben said...

Do not stop dreaming and do not stop only in dreaming, work for it to become reality! If it is a requirement for every documentary film to leave a lesson for the audience to ponder on, then this was this movie’s contribution. Since the start of viewing, this message was being echoed on and on through the course of the film. This 1994 documentary about the life of Maya Lin by Freida Lee Mock taught us a wonderful lesson, that nothing should stop someone in pursuing his/her dreams.

A battle against the world can be won if you have faith in yourself. Believing in your abilities and talents is the first step to success. Gender, age, race and social status can never limit a person to excel and climb the pedestal of greatness. The film showed the struggle of Maya Lin in her quest to gain acceptance for her model of the Vietnam Memorial. She battled out several critics pointing out her age, gender, race and her said insensitivity with the issue. A twenty year old girl facing the sad reality of life that everyone’s a critic; that whatever a person does, there will always be someone to detest it. It is hard fighting for what you believe is right, but it is harder not to fight for your belief. Problems always arise, but given the right attitude and strength of will, everything can be triumphed over.

The documentary was great but there is this one thing I think is faulty about the movie. The movie was overly biased for Maya Lin’s side. The film showcased the critics to be bad and mean. It was very evident in the speeches of the team that planned the memorial before the actual presentation of the critics of Maya Lin. The pre-speeches to the critics already stated that the critics were mean people, that they are egoistic, bad and narrow-minded. This method was used to frame the mindset of the audience that the critics were the bad ones and that they are oppressing Maya Lin, which I think, is not the real case. Everyone is entitled his/her right to opinion. Contradicting an idea does not necessarily mean that you are mean or bad or narrow-minded, it just shows that you are processing your thoughts which happened to be in conflict with the reigning idea. The movie was the narrow-minded one for framing the movie to be too biased on Maya Lin’s side.

The path to success is never an easy road to travel. There will always be troubles and hardships that will hinder the achievement of goal but enough perseverance, faith, will power, courage and talent can outweigh every challenge a person would face. A person’s only limitation is his/her imagination. As long as you can imagine something to do, something to accomplish and you put your whole self to it, it will be fulfilled. Everything starts with a simple idea, therefore no one should stop themselves from creating new ideas, new innovations to improve the world.
The movie is a very inspirational one. This is a film that I will always remember when my hopes are gone.

Mendoza, Aldrick

Czarina XD said...

“Art is and should be the act of an individual; willing to say something new, something not quite familiar. It is that collection of those singular personal visions, transformed from within the mind’s eye to the public which has, throughout time, throughout history, come to form a definition of who we are, and in a way… why we are.” – Maya Lin

Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision (1994) is a documentary that recaptured almost ten years of the life of Maya Lin, from her humble beginnings as a college student to becoming who she is right now: the young and well-acclaimed architect-sculptor of her generation. With a certain sense of truthfulness only a documentary can pose, Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision can be honestly considered as an effective tool for espousing a higher degree of realism, as compared to the other films that we had watched in class. As Aufderheide (2007) can even attest, a documentary film tells a story about real life. But aside from its content, an equally significant matter is the manner by which this ‘real’ happening can be captured, framed, and arranged in such a way that the inevitable use of a perspective does not impede its genuineness. Yet, we can never jointly assess the extent of realism on it, for everything as regards to documentaries, and even films, are subject to one thing: our own perception about it. What we have to take in mind is that real or fictitious, believable or not, we all have our own expectations, and this particular documentary did not fail to meet mine. And while a point was raised in class that with this being a documentary, there is less room for interpretation, I think it’s the contrary.

There are monumental occurrences in our lives that can influence and can facilitate the way our lives are shaped, allowing us to become better persons. There are also everyday thoughts that cross our minds, not immediately knowing their impacts on the way we are. Yet ultimately, upon realizing the importance of those ideas and experiences, we feel the want and the need to impart such on other people, hoping that they will get the same sense of fulfillment you experienced upon knowing about it. An incidence, a private feeling, for it to be transformed into something public, something that a lot of people can relate to, is a gift that only people with courage and perseverance can work out. Upon the selection of her design, out of a thousand of entries, to capture and to transform public mourning and loss are tough jobs for an architect, let alone an undergraduate and inexperienced one. Maya Lin, as shown in the documentary, never even expected to be chosen, for her entry is as simple as she imagined it to be. Yet, what is important is the message it conveyed, as the group of people who chose it as the final design of the Vietnam Memorial saw. The rippling defeat and sacrifice symbolized by the sea of names of those who perished in the war were simply printed on a black, V-shaped wall, and that was all it took to commemorate the lives that were lost—and it was enough. People had died on their pursuit for civil rights, and all it took was for those dates to be etched on a round table—and it was enough. For that is what art is—the embodiment of a feeling, and for that feeling to be properly conveyed to other people through it takes a clear-cut and an unwavering vision. Such is possible. Such is effectively portrayed by this documentary.


kristia said...

What is art for? Is it something that should be created so as to produce something which is aesthetically pleasing to the eyes of the people or should it be created to elicit some emotions from the public?

Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision is a documentary about the life and works of the sculptor and architect Maya Lin who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D. C. when she was only 21 years old. The Academy Award winning documentary begins with the start of her career when a controversy arose when it was announced that the design of the memorial was made by a Chinese-American woman. Different criticisms were made on the design and even on Maya Lin herself.

What is interesting about the documentary is that it was able to show how Maya Lin did not falter during this difficult time. At a young age when she was supposedly enjoying her life as a college student, she was exposed to a world wherein she was unreasonably judged because of her age, gender, and race. A lot of veterans complained because they believed that she, being a young Asian would not really be able to understand what happened during the war, and what more about creating a memorial dedicated to it. At the same time, Maya Lin’s design won during the time wherein women were not yet fully accepted in the public sphere.

It can be said that one of the strengths of the documentary is that it was able to show how personal integrity is really important. At a time wherein almost all the people around you are trying to pull you down, it is necessary to stand firm and defend your opinions. Maya Lin believed in her design, no matter how other people, especially the veterans tried to convince her (and the other people) otherwise.

Also, Maya Lin was able to show a different side of “art”. Art should not only be appreciated for its aesthetic qualities, but also for the meaning behind each and every design. In the case of the first memorial that she made, she designed it in such a way that the memorial would be able to allow the people to have their own experience, to make them realize that the soldiers who fought during the war are indeed gone yet their memories would always be present not just in the memorial, but in the people themselves.

Another thing that the documentary advocated is the importance of compromise. In a world wherein there are a lot of conflicting opinions, it is important to find a middle ground and to settle on something. This idea can be seen in the part wherein different additions were made to Maya Lin’s original design in order to please the veterans and the other critics.

Overall, the documentary was able to show how art can be used to address the different issues in the country. Aside from the Vietnam War Memorial that Maya Lin created, she also created the Women’s Table to commemorate some of the women at Yale, addressing the issue on the importance of women. Art is then something that should not be taken for granted. It can be considered as an effective tool in trying to raise the awareness of the public and in trying to express a personal opinion.

rotcivcumigad said...

Winning the best documentary in the 1995 Academy awards, Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision is a story of an architect battling critics and ultimately herself to fulfil her ambitions of creating significant works that are too important to objectify in a work of art. It gave the term documentary a different meaning when it deviated to the usual narrated, news like and informative qualities to a more subject oriented approach to getting information, such as asking her own opinions, the opinions of her colleagues, the people involved in the work and most importantly the way how her past as well as more recent events in her life affected her work. Clearly, these qualities of the documentary were not present in others that made this story ground-breaking in terms of presenting a documentary.

The documentary presents Maya Lin, an architect who was tasked to create the several of the most influential and important works of art which include the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, the Civil Rights Memorial, the Wave Field and other projects that have significant importance in history. Therefore this story tells us of a very important woman with vital role in proclaiming current societal issues and significant passages of history through her works of art.

A documentary about art cannot be expressed in an objective manner since what it entails is a description in great detail of what the artist went through, what are the emotions that brought about the conception of the art and what critics think about it. Therefore, this documentary was presented in an unusual way albeit very suitable for this kind of story. It is a life’s story of a woman with a mission to advocate art such that it can be a medium to express emotions and address issues not of her own but for the public whom the art is dedicated to. Therefore, the strong and clear vision of Maya Lin is to reinforce and maybe to influence the emotions that people feel towards issues and events that are subject of her art. This offers Maya Lin a certain control to the individuals who are subjects of her art which brings us to the concept of power. Art in this context is just a tool for the artist to express and influence people of what they should think and how they should act on certain events and issues. The art that she makes are not mere objects for inspiration but a way in which she channels her thoughts and feelings urging others to do the same.


Ina_Partosa said...
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Ina_Partosa said...

I will admit it. I was bored at the beginning. I did not see the significance of the film immediately and thought that it was only a plain film about a Chinese-American who went and conquered the United States with her designs in architecture. I thought that it was just another art /success story of a student and it did not really matter politically or in any other way. But I was wrong. Right after that soldier delivered his disdain and complaints against the committee in charge of the memorial, I saw the story in a whole different light. It became another arena where actors compete with one another to get their own interest more advantaged or prioritized than the others. It was real politik in play and one could not help but be surprised at how politics seems to appear at the most unlikely places when we least expect it to.

What is interesting about the documentary is that it was able to depict what usually happens in the real world. It makes the viewers realize how political things can get just because of conflicting interests of the actors involved in the picture. We can see how a simple creation of a Vietnam War Memorial can gain such clamor and public attention, strong enough to reach the Senate of the United States. We can also see how the protagonist tried as much as possible to still advance her interest despite the many oppositions and criticisms she got from veteran soldiers and media alike. Maya Lin’s strong desire to translate emotions into beautiful works of art worked its way to the top, making the powers that be listen to her and eventually keeping the original design she submitted in the competition.

The only problem with this film --like in almost all documentaries--is that the extent to which it can be considered as narrating reality remains questionable. As we all know, documentaries will always be at the mercy of the editors. What will be shown and what will not be shown depends on what the editors think is relevant to make the story coherent. For example, the story was shown in such a manner that the opposing party in the Vietnam Memorial will look like people who want to stop the design either just for the sake of it or because they could not bear the thought that an Asian is going to design the memorial. Like any other media, the film can be cut and edited depending on how the director wants to portray Maya Lin – a strong woman who rose against her adversaries or a victim of racism and sexual discrimination.

The latter part of the film, however, focused on Maya Lin’s integrity and dedication to deliver people the “best work of art” she could design. These events were information supporting the main theme of the documentary which is Maya Lin’s strong hold of her principles combined with her brilliance in the field of architecture. I can definitely say that the film, albeit the doubt of the degree of truthfulness and consistency with reality, was able to establish the message it wanted to disseminate. It was an inspiration for everyone to stand their ground no matter how difficult and ugly it may become at the end of the day, what would really matter is how you hard you fought to keep your integrity intact.


louie.lisbog said...

Societal stereotypes and discriminations- these are the main obstacles that Maya Lin faced in order to be on top in her field. Maya Lin, an architect best known for her work in the Vietnam War Veterans Memorial, was the subject in this Academy Award winning documentary titled “Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision.”

Being a young Asian female student, she received an outpouring of criticisms and insults by people especially when Maya Lin won the best design for the Vietnam War Veterans Memorial besting many great and professional architects in the United States. Many raised their eyebrows ever since she was called on stage as the winner until groups of people are protesting to re-open the contest and scrap Maya Lin’s work. But she remained strong as she could possibly be; fight what she needs to fight and to be as successful as she wants to be, just like any other people in whichever gender and color.

This happened during the early 1980’s in the United States where there are lots of white people still feel very superior with their racial background and will never let any other races- Blacks, Asians, Latinos, etc., defeat them in whatever field they will take. Aside from that, females during those times still do not receive equal treatment than men.

Racial and gender discrimination are such huge problems that existed in the society but as the time goes by, many people are accepting that no race and gender is superior or inferior to the other. Each one is equal and should receive the same rights and treatment whichever gender or race a person has. Especially during this age of globalization, we are now living in a multi-racial world where we can meet different people and races more often than before. Also, many women nowadays are as or more successful than their men counterparts thus making gender discrimination less existent in most societies.

But this not the case during Maya Lin’s time, maybe this is the time wherein the United States is in a transition phase towards achieving racial and gender equality. Many men and women have been hurt or killed in order to justify societal equality. Societal equality is not a privilege but it is a right that all people must receive. We must always praise and remember these men and women who fought for equality because if it is not for them, we are not enjoying the life that we have now. This documentary showed us how can racial and gender barriers shut down one’s success but also it showed us that there should be nothing to be scared of. Maya Lin encountered the many harsh things that some others might not take, but she just continued to fight on and believe that one’s success does not depend on one’s race or gender but it depends on the skill and hardwork that one puts in his craft. And from then on, Maya Lin has been one of the most successful architects in the United States. And at the same time, societal equality has developed and most people now accept that everyone should be treated the same way whichever sexual preference or skin color that a person possess.

migscardenas said...

"... we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. ..." -Martin Luther King

Freida Lee Mock’s documentary film Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision is about the life of Chinese-American architect and artist Maya Lin. She is well-known for her work, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial situated in Washington, D.C. It won the 1994 Academy Award for Documentary Feature.

The society that we live in can be very discriminating. This is a reality that we all should deal with. Prejudice stems from different factors including gender and race. The documentary film tackled this issue through the life of Maya Lin. Being a Chinese woman in the United States; it was not easy for her to pursue a career in architecture. She had to overcome a multitude of obstacles just to prove her worth despite the disfavour that she had to experience.

Upon the announcement that the winning design for the Vietnam War Memorial was submitted by a young Chinese woman, much controversy had arisen. Even some of the veterans were very vocal with their disagreement. They did not approve of her non-traditional design specifically dedicated to a war memorial. Her conception was to create an opening in the earth which symbolizes the impact to the many lives which were lost during the war. Also, her being Asian raised some eyebrows. Many could not believe that a memorial to the American soldiers will be designed by an Asian and not an American. This is not a new issue especially for the Americans. History shows that discrimination is a perennial problem in many societies. Despite the many issues that surrounded the construction of the memorial, it is considered as one of the most famous memorial in the United States because of its emotional impact to those who view it. It had become an important site for families and friends of the war casualties.

Like the Vietnam War Memorial, her other works which were featured in the film, are geared towards achieving a non-discriminating society. The Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama is a memorial for those who died in their struggle for equal treatment and integration of minorities in the area. Her design was such that viewers are able to feel the soothing and healing effect of water. Also, she designed a fountain commemorating the women at Yale. The rising statistics of women enrolees in Yale shows the bright future for women in the academic community.

The life of Maya Lin as depicted in the documentary film showed how one can be able to achieve one’s dream and at the same time touch lives. It is evident throughout the film that she really liked what she was doing. She enjoys working with unconventional forms of art that others may not appreciate. What is important is that she was able to put forward her ideas through a medium that she was good at, and that was art. Indeed, Maya Lin was able to show that gender, race, age and others are just superficial things that won’t determine the fate of a person.

Othello II/Lloyd said...
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Othello II/Lloyd said...

"An artist struggles to retain the integrity of a work so that it remains a strong, clear vision." – Maya Lin

A lot of biographical films (or biopics) glorify the personality and character of the films’ respective subjects so as to serve as an inspiration to its viewers. The movie “Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision” is no exemption.

“Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision”, a 1994 documentary film by Freida Lee Mock, is about the life and works of architect and sculptor Maya Ying Lin. The biopic tells a story of a Chinese American woman of admirable courage, determination, strength of character, and dedication to her craft. The documentary film focused a lot on the stories behind her works including the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, and the ‘Women’s Table’ in front of Yale University’s Sterling Memorial Library among others. “Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision” won an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature at the 67th Academy Awards.

Lin is a woman of great courage, determination, and strength of character. Old file footages featured in the film show us that she has a relentless drive in protecting the integrity of her work. The public hearing on some changes/alterations on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial show the viewers Maya Lin’s courage in defending her vision for the memorial. She defended her design to the point that she is against the idea of having “two memorials in one memorial”. I criticize Maya Lin for being close-minded regarding the issue, as building another memorial in the same site will serve as a compromise between the ones for and against her design. At the same time, I admire her for her strength of character and her tendency to be unwilling to compromise for the sake of her work of art. The film’s subject is also a woman of great dedication to her craft. Most scenes in the film show the viewers Maya Lin’s hands-on approach and her research on things that will help her conceptualize the design of her memorials.

Despite of her gender and ethnicity, the film’s subject Maya Lin managed to succeed in the field of architecture. She succeeded in a male dominated field of study. Her Chinese ancestry did not serve as a barrier to succeed in a country like the US where racial discrimination is very much prevalent. Issues about her ethnicity and gender are not much highlighted in the film. Yet, it can be implied that the whole film serves as a statement that one’s ethnicity and gender are hindrances one can overcome in the pursuit of success. By sending this kind of messages, it makes the film a highly political film. The film is highly political in the sense that it advocates/encourages a certain belief, an anti-prejudice belief.

All in all, “Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision” is a must-watch film. It is a very motivating film. It has the potential of making its viewers aware that overcoming obstacles to your vision is possible through following of Maya Lin.



Kathrine said...

Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision is an effective tool of political socialization in such a way that it provokes its viewers to see the connection of everything in politics most specifically the politics behind the arts. Moreover, the documentary, through its effective presentation of events using the first person approach, has captured the attention of the audience into reflecting on the role of monuments and memorial site and the meanings people attach to these structures.

There is a preconceived notion that documentaries are close to reality if not real. These documentaries are constructed so as to present factual information in order to inform, influence and motivate its viewers. The traditional presentation of a documentary, as what a layman knows, entails having a narrator describing the event or central theme of the documentary and presenting its thesis, antithesis and synthesis. This third person approach makes documentaries distant yet factual to the viewers. In the documentary Maya Lin, however, the filmmakers use a first person approach which makes the depiction of Maya Lin more personal, closer to the audience, and more informative, making it more effective and appealing to the audience.

Aside from the use of a first person approach, the biopic also employs the use of raw images and clips to really bring the film closer to the audience. These raw videos significantly contributed to the authentic feel of the film to the audience. The juxtaposition of the black and white videos- which represent the raw videos from the past – and the colored videos- coming from the present context- also make the film more real, more factual, and more effective.

Assessing the technical aspects of the biopic, the film effectively used the first person approach, the use of raw videos, the play of colors, the minimal background music and the unconventional flow of the storyline, to be able to make a forceful yet moving biopic. The use of these technical supplements makes the documentary more appealing to the audience and makes the documentary more proximate to the viewing public.

Analyzing the subtext of the documentary entails focusing on the three salient themes that were touched upon by the film. The first theme is about the interconnectedness of politics to other domains of learning, such as the arts. The second is how people associate meanings to various structures, events and personal experiences. The third is the emancipation of people, be it after a war, after human rights abuses and women subjugation.

The documentary used the dynamics and story behind the making of the Vietnam War memorial to demonstrate the apparent interconnectedness of politics to the arts. It is striking to notice the interplay of various concepts like power, influence, racial discrimination, women subjugation, US humiliation, and US supremacy in the discourse of putting up a memorial for the people who died in the war. Using this context- the ordeal of Maya Lin to build a memorial - to start the documentary makes the film moving, more so by putting this storyline as the opening, the documentary easily captures the attention and curiosity of the audience.

The next theme in the story is the realization that people associate various meanings to various structures, events and personal experiences. Before watching the film, a person may feel that monuments or memorials are just structures built to commemorate the dead. However, after watching this film, one will realize that these structures are more than commemoration of the dead; these structures serve as the repository of the memories and lives of those who died in the war. The meanings associated by people to these structures are diverse and different in various levels.

Kathrine said...

The last theme that can be juiced out from the subtext of the documentary is the emancipation of people – how people become liberated after the war, how people fought against human rights abuses, and how women rose above and stood out. This all-encompassing theme is the joining common theme to the three memorials that were presented in the documentary. The film became more effective because it used this theme of emancipation and rising above in presenting a story based on true accounts. Evidently, the presentation of events that happened in which the common premise is being free and emancipation has attracted sympathy from all walks of people – people who are already emancipated and those who are struggling to be free and emancipated. This is another dimension where the film is seen as an effective conveyor of political learning.

The film, in general, has been an effective tool of political socialization by conveying to the public the message of fighting for your principles, standing up and rising above others. The film used various technical tools and themes that easily appeal to the public in order to make the film more powerful, moving and inspiring. The film provokes its viewers but implicitly challenging everyone to get out from your comfort zones and challenge yourself for things that will make a difference.


Kristine Camia said...

“Death is still death, still the absence of life and therefore of pain.” – Maximillien Morrel in The Count of Monte Cristo

Death means different things to different people. For some, it can relieve them from the pain and suffering that life had offered them. For with the end of life, they ceased to be touched by emotions known to mankind. But for some, it is the other way around. Death for them brings nothing but suffering for there is nothing more painful than losing a loved one. There are also some who just accept it as life for them, ends and will inevitably end with death. And there are deaths that mean heroism for many, a kind that whey will remember and truly honor.

And so when the time comes to honour these heroes, who has the say to how they will do it? Who will decide whether something they did is enough? Is it the families of those heroes or their countrymen and comrades in war? Is it fair to let people who don’t know these heroes personally decide?

Maya Lin: A Clear Strong Vision is a documentary that shows the struggle of a very young architect/artist to depend her design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. This memorial is the American people’s way of honouring their fellowmen (mostly soldiers) for what they did for the country during the Vietnam War. Maya Lin, the winner of the memorial design contest was chosen by a panel of architects and artists. The name of the artists/designers was unknown to the panel during the entire process of choosing the winner. There is nothing in the entries that can identify a design to a certain person. Overall, we can that Maya Lin was chosen fair and square.

However, her design for many people was unacceptable. It was criticized by politicians, citizens and even the veterans of the Vietnam War. There were politicians who attacked the victory of her design arguing that one of the judges in the contest is a communist. A veteran of war thought her simple design as similar to a scar on earth. There are some who did not like the black color. Some wanted to put a flag on the vertex of the memorial. And there are some who wanted to put a monument of soldiers in the memorial. There was also a threat that there will be no funding for the project unless a compromise between the artists and the critics is attained.

But despite all these contentions, Maya Lin stood for her design. At a very young age, she went through many deliberations with fellow artists, veterans of war, citizens, politicians and professionals. She witnessed how many people disliked her design. She heard all of the praises and criticisms. The memorial design soon became a very controversial issue. But amidst all these, Maya Lin stayed true to her design and refused to change anything in it.

Maya Lin’s decision to keep her design showed her courage and integrity amidst all the disagreements. For her it is not a matter of proving that her interpretation is right. It is a matter of showing people a new perspective about death and heroism. Because maybe through this, people especially the soldiers’ families can start to accept and live with the pain. Like what she said in the documentary, ‘…You have to accept, and admit that this pain has occurred, in order for it to be healed, in order for it to be cathartic...’She faced all the criticisms and respected it. She defended her design and patiently explained to everyone her vision. And in the end, the memorial was finally built using the original design of Maya Lin.


jolly said...


“I try to give people a different way of looking at their surroundings. That's art to me.”
Maya Lin

Maya Lin, a 50-year old American artist and architect, had been making waves in the art scene primarily through her work in sculpture and landscape architecture. It is through her design in the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington, D.C., however, that brought her name to the forefront of American popular culture. Freida Lee Mock’s 1994 documentary, “Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision” tells the rise of the quiet yet strong artist, as she faced all odds in her life as she turned her abstract ideas into a concrete art form, and tenaciously lived up the challenges that society continually strikes her with.

The documentary takes off from the start of Maya Lin’s career as a student of architecture, who took a shot at sending her proposed design to the Vietnam War Memorial. Amongst thousands of entries, it was Maya Lin’s minimalist design that stood out as a winner. However, controversy sparked when a multitude of attacks began to contest such decision. From her aesthetics to her identities, many challenged the young artist for the reason that what she delivered did not do justice to the suffering of millions of war veterans. It was in the face of these adversaries, however, that tested her strength and integrity, especially when sticking to her own vision as an artist.

One must remember the context of which these phenomena took place: during this time, Americans have yet to accept the reality that a soft-spoken young Chinese-American woman were to design a memorial that would pay tribute to the memory of the countless nationals who died for the country. Apparently, as seen in the interviews, gender, race and even socio-economic background indirectly played a role in the advancement of the “best” art form of the competition. In fact, while watching, some thoughts kept haunting me: What constitutes what exactly is “low” or “high” art? What are the given criteria, if there is? And who sets these standards? Though “who” this person is can be redirected instead to a particular elite group that has a say on the matter, it is important to look at how they shape the consciousness of those whose lives were affected by the war. It is clear that Maya Lin was almost a victim of a social structure that favors a certain mold of artist and artwork. But given these unfortunate circumstances (such as her trial in front of many), she was able to hold her head high and instead face the challenges surrounding her with grace. She was not completely devoured by the power structure in the art scene, as she tenaciously stood her ground.

jolly said...


The kind of art she consistently practiced is said to be minimalist—an Eastern conceived design wherein the subject is stripped down to its starkest elements to bring out its focus. It is saying so much with so little, and using this technique I can see why it is strategically used to deal with loss and life. The Vietnam War Memorial (VWM) as well as her consequent art works are simplistic yet meaningful, and very grounded to the earth. This reflects the kind of person and artist that the documentary is focused on: Although Maya Lin is raised still in a very liberal American society, her Asian roots are still apparent through her quiet perseverance and adherence to their own cultures. These customs are deeply engrained in her being, and thus her vision reflects this kind of impact.

As we have discussed what is there to know about the movie, now we can briefly talk about how these movies related to one another. Being a documentary, supposedly it talks about a non-fictional phenomena that is grounded on reality. But our critique to such premise would be this: how much “reality” is presented? Like some of my classmates, I agree that the film obviously showed bias for Maya Lin, considering that she is indeed the subject of the bio-pic. Not all—or to be more realistic, not enough— of the reality aspect was tackled, therefore it is safe to still question the filmmaker into its purpose in socializing the viewers.

Overall, I find the documentary just like its subject--a bit low-key, but very much zealous in advocating its strong clear vision as an artist.