Loom of Sun and Sea, 1971. Wood, acrylic, and string, 72 x 154 x 15 cm. Photo: Object Studies, Courtesy Archivio Maria Lai and Marianne Boesky Gallery, NY and Aspen

Maria Lai: Geographies of Memory

If birthplace is a determinant of fate, then Maria Lai (1919–2013), who was born in Ulassai on the island of Sardinia, embraced hers willingly, mining a profound cultural heritage made personal. For her, geography truly was destiny, and her work is defined by what was native to her experience. Indeed, the most crucial aspect of Lai’s work is how it embodies various means of connection to the land and people of Sardinia, which was first settled in the Stone Age. It’s an isolated, pastoral, and traditional environment; though it is part of modern Italy, the predominant language is not Italian. Lai was immersed in Sardinian culture, modern and ancient; her surname is the 10th most common on the island. Though her work displays a sophistication derived from an education in Rome and Venice, it is primarily a vehicle for exploring the traditions of her place, evoking a rich and sensuous land-based social history; her means of fabrication likewise emphasize a primal connection to her culture. Lai’s work is profoundly sui generis, female, abstract, and autobiographical . . .

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