Maria Lai, Errando n. 2 (Erring no. 2), 2008. Photo Pietro Paolo Pinna. Archivio Maria Lai by VEGAP, 2023.
Maria Lai / Woven Writing
May 12 – Sep 3, 2023
Es Baluard
Palma de Mallorca, Spain

Maria Lai: Woven Writing is the first retrospective exhibition of the work of Italian artist Maria Lai (Ulassai, 1919 – Cardedu, 2013) to be presented in Spain. This curatorial project reconstructs the career path of one of the most important figures of European art during the second half of the 20th century, even considering that her particular profile is rooted in a Mediterranean landscape that responds to specific codes and frequencies: the heart of Sardinia, in a village in Ogliastra located between stone mountains and the sea.

Lai embarked on an enduring and unique creative journey that explored the potential of thread, understood as an autobiographical trace, as a metaphor for her artistic practice. It is worth noting the fact that she began her career in an especially solitary way, being a woman in a context that did not quite understand what she was doing. As she gained confidence and autonomy, she revealed not only her own language but also a strong commitment to communality. Gestures that respond, in some measure, to her interest in social actions and collaboration, as can be seen in her homage to Antonio Gramsci or the action Legarsi alla montagna (To Tie Oneself to the Mountain).

As with so many other issues, she was ahead of her time and prematurely showed a clear conviction regarding the importance of involving her neighbours and fellow citizens, committed to an approach that understands art as a pedagogical tool for learning and social transformation.

As its title indicates, the current exhibition points to the connection that is established between writing and sewing, both as intimate gestures that expose ideas and create new universes on the blank page or fabric. Lai asserts that “To weave is to be”; in fact, this is one of the key concepts that run through her entire exploration, revealing itself as a way of being in the world.

In her work, writing is the driving force of creation, even if it is not legible. Through her use of thread, the artist creates a new form of visual writing, singular and mysterious, indecipherable yet accessible. Maria Lai captures the essence of local traditions and reinvents them to bring to light the relationship between humanity and nature, between personal identity and collective ritual. She embodies memory and nostalgia, as well as a strong determination to invoke the past through the infinite possibilities of (positive) contamination and citation.

That, among other things, is why this exhibition does not follow a chronological order, but rather highlights the constant cross-referencing in Lai’s works, which are interwoven to form a grand design of art and life. The project is based on three main ideas: writing (textual and visual), memory and community.

Paintings, sculptures, looms, sewn canvases, books, maps, actions in public spaces, etc. Different supports that harbour the strength of a thought, works that nurture each other, based on personal, local and universal history. Each of her series displays a continuity and an internal logic that weave together the different stages of her life, adding experiences and reflections of different kinds based on that which is social, collaborative and pedagogical.

Thus, with the aim of being as faithful as possible to the way in which the artist understands artistic practice, Maria Lai: Woven Writing is structured on the basis of the three aforementioned concepts and exists in its entirety as a living and porous organism, aware of the fact that time is not always linear and that space goes beyond the limits that appear in the very materiality of the work.

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