Maria Lai, born in 1919 in Ulassai, Sardinia, was a prominent Italian artist known for her contributions to textile art and her innovative approach to sculpture. She embarked on her artistic journey by studying at the art high school in Rome under the guidance of Angelo Prini and Marino Mazzacurati. Later, she further honed her skills at the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice, where she attended sculpture courses led by Arturo Martini and Alberto Viani.
After World War II, Lai returned to Sardinia before moving back to Rome in 1954. In 1957 she held her first solo exhibition at the L’Obelisco Gallery, showcasing a collection of her drawings spanning from 1941 to 1954. However, Lai took a hiatus from the art world for about a decade before rediscovering her passion for creative expression through textile art in the early 1970s. From that point on, she regularly exhibited her textile artworks in galleries and museums.
In 1971, Lai presented her first series of “Telai” (looms) at the Galleria Schneider in Rome. A significant turning point in her career occurred in 1977 when she crossed paths with art historian Mirella Bentivoglio. Mirella encouraged Lai to participate in the prestigious Venice Biennale in 1978. The following year, Lai embarked on a series of transformative art interventions in various locations. One notable example is “La casa cucita” (The Sewn House) in Selargius in 1979. Another important work from this period is the performance “Legarsi alla montagna” (Binding to the Mountain) in Ulassai in 1981. She connected the houses and mountains of her hometown with a ten-kilometre-long blue ribbon instead of creating a traditional monument as requested by the mayor.
Lai’s artistic practice also encompassed the creation of large-scale compositions known as “Geografie,” which utilized thread and embroidery techniques. Additionally, she experimented with “Libri cuciti” (Stitched Books), creating unique and visually captivating artworks. Throughout her career, Lai revisited and harmonized her previous works, continuously evolving her artistic language and vision.
In 2006, after returning to Sardinia, Lai inaugurated the Museum of Contemporary Art in Ulassai. Her works can also be found in renowned Italian and international institutions, including the Central National Library of Florence, MOMA in New York, Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, GNAM in Rome, MUSMA in Matera, Museum of Art of the Province of Nuoro, Municipal Gallery of Art of Cagliari, and MART in Rovereto.
Following her passing in 2013. Maria Lai’s artistic legacy is commemorated through significant exhibitions and events held in Italy, Europe, and the United States.