There are many strong and effective memorials in the history of art, but none surpass the eloquence and emotional power of Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Lin was an undergraduate student at Yale University when she decided to submit a design for the competition for the memorial. The design was controversial because some found the simplicity to be nihilistic. The realization of the design perhaps had an unanticipated emotional impact and her detractors were largely won over.
The memorial is made of two gleaming black granite walls that cut down into the earth to create a V-shape. Lin explained that the concept was to create a wound in the earth to symbolize the tremendous loss of the soldiers.
58,272 names of US soldiers who were either killed in action (KIA) or classified as missing in action (MIA) during the Vietnam War are engraved in the wall. Lin arranged the names in chronological order according to when the soldiers were lost between the years of 1959 and 1975.
The effect of the thousands of names, listed one after another, column after column, is one of profound and overwhelming loss. The reflections of the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial that one sees reminds a visitor of the ideal of liberty – the founding principle of the United States of America – that the soldiers died defending.
And, of course, the visitors are reflected and thus the memorial brings the past and present together and makes every visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial a commemorative event, honoring those soldiers in all perpetuity.
Happy Memorial Day from The Art Minute
More images of Maya Ying Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial