Artist and Musician Biographies


Maya Lin discusses her Vietnam Veterans Memorial Monument, in Washington DC, in the context of her other works.

Maya Lin is a distinguished architect and artist best known for her design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. As a bright, young girl, Maya was accepted into Yale College to pursue a degree in architecture. During her undergraduate studies, she entered the nationwide design contest as a class project. To her surprise and with much criticism, Maya Lin proved to have the best design and won the competition.

She cut a V-shaped slice into the earth, aligned to the Washington Monument in one direction and the Lincoln Memorial in the other. Placed against the exposed earth, two large slabs of black granite stood with the inscribed names of the nearly 60,000 American men and women who lost their lives in the Vietnam Conflict placed in chronological order of their deaths.

The level of the monument was placed beneath the level of the ground to create an intimate place for visitors to confront their anguish and sadness. The black granite was specifically chosen for its inherent property of reflection when highly polished. The visitors are not only reflecting their pain internally, but externally as well.

This monument received a large amount of criticism because of its divergence from the conventional monuments of fallen soldiers and flags. The slab of black granite represented a "black gash of shame" to some veterans. Placing the memorial beneath the level of the ground gave some of the veterans the impression that these Vietnam victims were not receiving the proper recognition.

However, Maya Lin's intention was not to make a political statement, but rather create a healing place for the victim's survivors. The placement of the memorial below the earth's level also merely provides an example of how her hometown's landscape has influenced her work.

Maya Lin was born in 1959 in Athens, Ohio, the home of Ohio University, where both her parents were professors. They lived in the wooded countryside where there are plenty of rolling hills as a result of the glacial movement. In that area, there are serpent burial mounds of the Hopewell and Adena Indians.

Her next big project was "Water Rolls in Montgomery," which consists of a large, granite disk engraved with the names and events of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950's and 1960's. Behind the disk is a 9-foot granite wall inscribed with the quotation from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "We are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream." Both pieces are covered with a thin layer of continuous running water. This piece invites the viewer to become involved with the piece through touch, sound, words and memories.

In 1989, Maya Lin moved away from doing monuments because she did not want to be typecast and wanted to focus on her abilities on other media and as a sculptor. During the 1990's she renovated a New York City building to accommodate the new Museum of African Art. Maya also designed private residencies at this time. Yale University then asked if she would design a monument to commemorate the women who attended the university. "The Women's Table" was formed which consists of a black granite table with ever-winding spirals of zeros for each year that Yale enrolled women. This monument like the others used a constant flow of water upon the granite enticing the viewer to touch the piece.

Maya Lin has went on to create other Environmental works such as "The Wave Field" for the University of Michigan. She continues to run an architectural and design firm in New York City and her ability to combine both architecture and sculpture has allowed her earn a reputation as one of the most innovative artists working today. in 2009, Maya Lin was awarded the Medal of the Arts and, in 2016, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, both presented by President Barak Obama.

Page author: L.C. & C.F.