Maya Ying Lin Questions and Answers

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How does learning about the objections met by Maya Lin and hearing the artist speak about her challenges change understanding and appreciation of her work?

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Maya Lin first became widely known when her proposal for the Vietnam War Memorial was accepted. At the time, she was only 21 and still an undergraduate at Yale. There were many objections to her being chosen. Lin summed them up herself:

OK, it was black, it was below grade, I was female, Asian American, young, too young to have served. Yet I think that none of the opposition hurt me.

Protests against the work of a woman being chosen to memorialize the fallen—who were almost exclusively young men—did not make an impression upon her. She has never viewed herself or her work through the lens of her gender and has described her childhood thusly:

We were unusually brought up; there was no gender differentiation. I was never thought of as any less than my brother.

Also, in her own words, her Chinese heritage was not consciously intertwined with her creative processes until later in life:

I probably spent the first 20 years of my life wanting to be as American as possible. Through my 20s, and into my 30s, I began to become aware of how so much of my art and architecture has a decidedly Eastern character.

She views her work on monuments and her art as two quite separate endeavors:

I left science, then I went into art, but I approach things very analytically. I choose to pursue both art and architecture as completely separate fields rather than merging them.

Art is very tricky because it's what you do for yourself.

The boldness and stark form of her Vietnam Memorial and later monumental works are the natural expression of her personal history, including an unencumbered but somewhat isolated childhood in which, from her earliest years, the creation of art played a dominating role. Although Lin makes use of the written word and models in preparing her architectural commissions, her work seems to emerge unfettered by external considerations and almost without context. In the case of the Vietnam Memorial, she refused to read anything about the war, preferring to let the seventy eight thousand fallen soldiers remain paramount without reference to the political firestorm that the conflict became engulfed in. As for the negative reactions she has met under way in her career, her philosophy is quite simple:

To fly, we have to have resistance.

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