Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Maya Lin: Separating Grief from Glory

Maya Lin's Design Sketch for
Vietnam Veterans Memorial, 1981.
 (More images here.)
The post I intended to write was a riff on something I read in The Concise Untold History of the United States by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick: "The Vietnam Veteran's Memorial, dedicated in November 1982, contains the names of 58,280 dead or missing Americans. The message is clear -- the tragedy is the death of those Americans. But imagine if the names of 3.8million Vietnamese, and millions of Cambodians and Laotians, were also included. The wall, whos length is 493 feet, would be over eight miles long."

"Eight miles long." That's something to think about.

Before I sat down to write, however, I watched a film about Maya Lin and the creation of the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial: Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision. It stopped me in my tracks.

Before I talk about where we ultimately need to get to, I need to talk about something remarkable that has already been done.

The memorial designed by Maya Lin did something that hadn't occurred to anyone before: separate the grief for dead soldiers from the valorizing of war.
How could I have failed to remember the magnitude of what she accomplished? The controversy over the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial happened in the period right after I graduated from college. Some people opposed the memorial because it looked like a "black scar in the ground." The film helps make very clear the need they felt to make the memorial about glory.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall
(Source: Wikipedia)

But the film's footage of veterans and families also makes it clear what the vast majority of people wanted and needed: help in dealing with grief.

Maya Lin
Maya Lin was 21 when she provided the design for the memorial. Throughout a controversy that became very acrimonious -- including racist slurs against her personally -- she hung in there and reminded people of the artistic intent behind the design. She is a model of courage and poise.

We antiwar activists should watch and learn.

(PS - Happy International Women's Day.)

Related posts

I was back in New Jersey to visit with high school friends in July. It gave me the opportunity to visit the newly opened 9/11 Memorial. Not surprisingly, what I saw made me spend days and weeks thinking about the memorial itself, and the larger issue of 9/11 in our national life. Out of all that I have seen and heard and read and thought about, several thoughts keep rising to the top.

(See 9/11 Memory: Grieving and Celebrating Valor, Leaving Vengeance Behind )

On November 11, 2015, Veterans for Peace had a message about reclaiming Armistice Day that proved itself massively spreadable on social media . . .

(See What will it take to reclaim Armistice Day for peace? )

In a composition suggestive of a yin-yang symbol, a woman in a burka (but wearing audacious red glitter platform heels) is surrounded by genie-ish tableaus of the many male obsessions/pastimes that some of us rail about frequently -- sexualized pop singers, professional sports -- as well as some that we probably should rail about more (such as patriarchy in religion and political violence).

(See VIOLENCE: " . . . and the women must live with the consequences . . . " )

The Last Supper is a staggering collection of 600 plates that the artist Julie Green has painted with images and notations about the last meals of people put to death in states across the US.

(See Communion of a Different Sort: "The Last Supper" at the Block Museum )

I felt Chicago should build a Chinese garden as an emblem of the city's respect for its relationship with China. To my mind, the only suitable way to do this was to build a replica of the garden from Dream of the Red Chamber. (Not a bad idea for a city who's motto is Urbs in Horto - City in a Garden - right?)

(See A Dream of a "Dream of Red Chambers" Garden for Chicago)