Maya Lin, an artist and designer best known for creating the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., will join the Lunder Institute for American Art at Colby College as a senior academic fellow during the current school year.

Colby announced Lin’s appointment Wednesday morning. Lin, whose studio practice is in New York, will fulfill her fellowship remotely, collaborating with students and faculty, as well as the community, through a series of online interactions related to art and the environment and her ongoing project, “What Is Missing?” devoted to global biodiversity and habitat loss. The artist has been associated with Colby since 2016, when the Colby College Museum of Art acquired two of her works as part of the Lunder Collection, a massive trove of American art that was donated to the college by longtime benefactors Peter and Paula Lunder.

Maya Lin is Colby’s latest high-profile artist fellow. Photo courtesy of Colby College

After accepting the donation, Colby expanded the museum to create more gallery space and established the Lunder Institute for American Art to function in tandem with the museum as a scholarly institute. Lin delivered a sold-out lecture at Colby in spring 2016, and the museum has since acquired a third piece by Lin, “Interrupted River: Penobscot,” a large-scale glass marble site-specific installation that she created as the centerpiece of the exhibition “Occupy Colby” in 2019.

In a statement, Lin said she was attracted to Colby because of its strong environmental studies and arts programs. “As an artist, so much of my work has focused on issues surrounding the environment and our relationship to nature, and I look forward to these presentations and discussions at Colby, whose Environmental Studies department is one of the oldest in the country, and who also has such a strong commitment to the arts,” she said.

As part of her fellowship, Lin will meet remotely with Colby students and faculty across several departments, including anthropology, art, English and history. In the spring, the Lunder Institute will host a public conversation with Lin, and her appointment will culminate with her participation in the Colby Summer Institute for Environmental Humanities a year from now. In addition to the Lunder Institute and Colby Museum, Lin will work closely with Colby’s Center for Arts and Humanities and the Buck Lab for Climate and Environment.

Lin received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016 from President Barack Obama, the highest civilian honor in the United States. She also received the National Medal of the Arts in 2009. She won the public competition to design the Vietnam Veterans Memorial while studying as an undergraduate at Yale University. Beth Finch, interim director of the Lunder Institute, said Lin has built her practice balancing art and architecture, using science to create art that engages viewers to think about their relationship to nature. “This fellowship epitomizes the Lunder Institute’s potential to create interdisciplinary synergy between a renowned American artist and the intellectual and creative resources of our community,” Finch said. “This captures the whole of it. We see opportunities for dynamic interconnections.”

Much of Lin’s work relates to water as a resource, and she often uses recycled materials to represent rivers in her art. For the piece she created for “Occupy Colby” called “Interrupted River: Penobscot,” she mapped the watershed with marbles on a museum wall and represented the dams, or interruptions, with breaks in the marbles.

Lin, 60, an ardent environmentalist, began discussions with Colby about serving as an academic fellow prior to the pandemic, and suggested to the college that the fellowship be served remotely to reduce carbon emissions associated with traveling between New York and Maine, Finch said. “She had indicated that she was interested in the fellowship, but thought aspects could happen remotely just as well if not more collaboratively. She felt there would be a way to join from her studio and connect with students and faculty,” Finch said. “When the pandemic emerged, we went back to her and said, ‘This feels like a perfect opportunity for an artist to engage Colby students and faculty and to work in a very interdisciplinary way.'”

Lin is the latest high-profile artist-fellow engaged by the Lunder Institute. Theaster Gates was the inaugural visiting artist in 2017 and is now the institute’s Distinguished Visiting Artist and director of artist initiatives. Richard Blanco and Torkwase Dyson were visiting artists in 2018, and last year Phong Bui served as inaugural senior fellow. In addition to Lin, Naeem Mohaiemen is a senior artist fellow artist this year, and the institute also has appointed two senior scholar fellows for the current academic year, Romi Crawford and David Park Curry.


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