Born in 1919 in Ulassai (in the Ogliastra province, Sardinia, Italy), a pupil of Arturo Martini and Alberto Viani at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Venice, Lai – at a time when women artists did not travel and did not enjoy credibility on the part of the art system – experimented with new materials, delving into the poetry of the land and creating worlds made with fabric, thread, bread, wood, canvas.
Following the success achieved in Rome during the Sixties, Lai decided to go back to Sardinia to distance herself from worldliness. She needed space, the wind, the stones and solitude. Her work fed on the ancestral connections with the island and on an inexhaustible “longing for infinity”.
“Man – writes Maria – needs to put together the visible with the invisible, and therefore elaborates fables, myths, legends, songs, artwork.” Starting from the simple things, listening to the beat of the planet, the artist weaves geographies that fall apart at the seams, dark planispheres full of stars, worlds above and beneath us, with bewildering meridians and parallels that remain incomplete, like life.
She creates books with fabrics that feature illegible words, with threads that entangle and pour out of the pages like waterfalls, or she portrays, with lightheartedness and dedication, legends buried in the collective unconsciousness, bringing them to life again. In Ulassai she has realized environmental and land art works, aiming at connecting the everyday life to the Universe, and the roughness of the territory to the sweetness of poetry, like when she turned a slope into a surface made of mirroring fragments that brought the sky down to the Earth.
Her father would tell her: “You are like a little goat longing for precipices.” Making use of Sardinian women’s traditions – sewing, the loom, the family, the stories of the janas (the fairies) – Lai subverts perspectives, she is untamable, and, gracefully, upsets conventions, reflecting herself every day in the vastness of the ‘elsewhere’.