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Published: 25 January 2020

By Andy Ross

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Maria Lai

MAXXI, the national museum of contemporary art in Rome, taught us about Maria Lai, a Sardinian artist who worked often with threads and cloth.

Our festive season was spent in Rome, visiting museums, galleries, architecture and sculpture parks. It was a fantastic holiday in spite of a day or two of illness, and we walked miles as we gawped and gasped at the city. MAXXI is in the Flaminio district and with its distinctive architecture by Zaha Hadid it was a must-see. 

Although there is a lot to see at MAXXI it was a surprise to happen upon a major retrospective of Maria Lai. Maria passed away in 2013 after a lifetime of making art and this show looked at the work she did from the mid 1960s. Trained as an artist, her work took on drawing and painting as well as sculpture, needlework and weaving.

The most elegant and well-known of the pieces the artist created is Legarsi alla Montagna, "Bound to the mountain". A folk tale from Sardinia tells of how a young girl rescued herself and her village from a landslide by following a vision of a blue ribbon floating over the peaks. Maria had been asked by the mayor of Ulassai to create a war memorial to the fallen soldiers from the area but she refused saying that wanted to commemorate the living instead. Using the story as inspiration the village tied strips of blue cloth together to create a ribbon which led from the village to the peak of the mountain. The ribbon joined each house in the village with knots and bows signalling the relationships between the people and homes. Although the project initially foundered, a group of women undertook to make it happen, dispelling the old animosities and frictions that existed. You can read more about the project in these two articles here and here.

Maria Lai's interest in the everyday activities of making bread, sewing and weaving, traditionally women's work, were the focus of her art. Her strong community spirit led her to make work which linked people through threads and yarns, as well as communal events like breaking bread together. How glad we were to be able to see and learn about this artist. 

The book, Maria Lai - art and connection - is in our collection now at the studio. Please do ask if you would like to see it.