“One Life: Maya Lin” Exhibition Draws on History to Advocate for Human Rights

“One Life: Maya Lin” is an interactive exhibit at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, focusing on the landscape of history while advocating for human rights. The installation opened on Sept. 30 and will be available for viewing until April 16, 2023. 

The exhibit centers Maya Lin, a designer, environmentalist, historian and architect. Born in 1959 in rural Ohio, Lin’s upbringing greatly influenced her artwork as she grew older. Lin, whose parents immigrated from China and were poetry and literature professors, is known for designing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. 

In an interview with the Smithsonian, Lin discussed the “love and respect [she has] for the natural world” which coincides with her passion for art. She began her environmental artwork career in 2012 with “What is Missing?” — a project that involves interviewing people about the ecological elements that have disappeared during their lifetimes — and is still working on the piece today.

“Each project becomes a way for me to learn about a new field, whether it is aerospace engineering, the study of light, or the history of civil rights,” Lin explained.

According to a press release from National Portrait Gallery Curator of Painting and Sculpture Dorothy Moss, Lin’s “strong love and respect for the land … has translated into a profound body of work that is grounded in empathy.”

Lin described her ongoing projects as “a systematic ordering of the land that is tied to history, time and language” in a press release. 

“Whether socially or aesthetically based, in these works I seek to create a dialogue with the viewer, to allow a place of contemplation, sometimes an incorporation of history, always a reliance on time, memory, or a passage or journey,” Lin said.

Lin concluded, “I feel I exist on the boundaries, somewhere between science and art, art and architecture, public and private, East and West. I am always trying to find a balance between these opposing forces, the place where opposites meet.”