Hand-painted hearts or Captain Tom in bronze? Memorialising the fallen of Covid-19June 4, 2021
As heroic statues fall out of vogue, communities have turned to experimental structures – from flourishing gardens to abstract sculptures – as monuments to loss on a vast scale
Maya Lin was a 21-year-old architecture student at Yale University when, in 1981, lacking professional experience, she submitted a class project to a design competition for a memorial for Vietnam war veterans on the National Mall in Washington DC. Her winning design, influenced by the minimalist sculpture and earth art of the New York art scene of the 1960s and 1970s, marked a transformation in how communities acknowledge loss and remember the dead.
Two large curved surfaces of gleaming, polished black granite emerge from the ground, like a wound in the earth, and meet at a point. The names of all 57,000 missing or killed veterans are engraved on the stone. Yet although memorials around the world continue to pay their respects to Lin’s work, the backlash was immediate and a battle emerged between conservatives and modernists. Politicians deemed the work nihilistic, a “black gash of shame”. As a compromise, the traditionalist sculptor Frederick Hart was commissioned to create a bronze statue of three soldiers, placed to one side of Lin’s memorial.