An interview with Micol Forte about Maria Lai, the artist who spun the threads

Maria Lay She is an artist who, based on direct life experience, specifically from her Sardinian tradition, transforms the knowledge of ancient gestures into a whole value relating to transcendence, the sacred, and radically spirituality.” Observation comes from a very reliable source, Micol Fortethe person running since 2000 A collection of modern and contemporary art from the Vatican Museumsa first class collection where names like Van Gogh, Picasso, Carrà, De Chirico, Chagall and Matisse stand out with a really cool room, Fontana, Burri, to name a few.

In addition to being a highly sensitive and attentive scholar, the Roman art historian edited the book “Maria Lay. Healing the pain. weaving hopePublished in a joint edition by 5 Continents Editions and the Maria Lai Foundation (2022, p. 96, E., €25.00, with photographs by Giorgio Dettori). It is from the tone of voice of the telephone conversation, and not only from his words, that Micol Forti conveys an infectious enthusiasm for the subjects which concern the existence of all of us, and above all, towards a unique artist.

Born in 1919 in the village of Ullasai in Ugliastra in Sardinia and died in Cardedo in 1919, knitting threads of different shapes and situations create a profound, unpredictable and poignant art. If his most famous worksTie yourself to the mountainWhen, on September 8, 1981, he found a way to “connect” the inhabitants and places of Ulasai with an endless blue thread, the artist produced a very large body of work of which, among many episodes, he made an accurate and heartfelt compendium of an exhibition held in the museum Maxxi of Rome From June 2019 to January 2020″Maria Lay. Hold the sun in the handThere are two Sardinian institutions dealing with his cultural and material legacy: Art station – Maria Lai Foundation and theMaria Lai Archive (You will find all the links at the bottom of the interview).

Forte, in the book captures the dimension of the sacred in Maria Lai’s work beginning with The Way of the Cross. How does the discourse fit with such a unique artist?

A work of art that is deep and complete is always sacred: it questions who we are, it investigates to know ourselves and the surrounding world, and artistic inquiry goes beyond merely describing reality. This is even more true in Maria Lai regardless of the fact that she has created works for sacred themes such as “The Way of the Cross”, Children’s Beds, “Christmas of War”. She began from direct life experience, and specifically from the traditions of her land, from such inferior materials as bread dough, thread, wood, and sewing, and the activities of the peasant world from which she came. Through his research, he transforms the knowledge of ancient gestures into a whole value relating to transcendence, the sacred, and spirituality in radical terms. In addition, Maria Lai has dealt with topics of a sacred nature many times, both on an individual level for herself such as nativity scenes, and with clients as in The Way of the Cross, and measuring herself against the request of the liturgical context.

Reading his text, a question arises among others: why does this thread so fascinate us today? Among other things, the artist also sewed works on paper and using a sewing machine on paper should not be too easy.

It is part of the great poetic power that was in his hands, in his mind, and in his heart. Maria Lai transforms everyday materials such as cloth, needle, thread, clay or clay, in a poetic reference: artistic creativity transforms something everyday into something unique.

In our hands, thread certainly does not become a work of art.

exactly. This is what distinguishes the artist. The leitmotif in Maria Lai’s work and its aesthetic reflection is that a work of art must start from a concrete experience and must belong in everyone’s life, and must not be created by something elusive or alien, I know? , Marble from far east.
Sewing for Maria has very specific roots. She was born in 1919, in Sardinia, on an island still associated with pastoralism, with the peasant world: although she was a wealthy bourgeois family, she came from a culture with strong ancestral roots. Tailoring relates to her an act of identity and at the same time the freedom of the female world.

Would it not be restrictive to define it as a feminine art? You do not describe it in these terms in your article.

of course not. It is a predominantly female work in our Western culture while in other cultures it is a predominantly male work. But it is linked to one of the greatest acts of women’s freedom: weaving, sewing and embroidering in Sardinian culture belong to a world between dreams and freedom, between the creation of one’s life and the fate that awaits them.

As he points out in the book, tradition plays a major role in the artist’s work.

Maria Lai refers to very wonderful myths of the ancestral Sardinian culture, in which female deities are at the origin of sewing: it is about the ability of women to bring a world different from men still associated with hunting, to the land. Tailoring in the Sardinian tradition relates specifically to an act of liberation and belonging to a field that transcends reality, transcends everyday life, and creates something that did not exist before. For her it also becomes a space to investigate meaning. The stitching of the image of “Via Crucis” goes hand in hand with the stitching of her books where there are no real words, it is imitated with threads. It also becomes a way to build new horizons of meaning. Those threads that sew the Stations of the Cross Trail become long cascades of tangles that descend behind the scenes.

Micol Forte, Director of the Collections of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Vatican Museums

Speaking of threads: what tied the Christian religion to the most important art of its time was broken in the modern era and in the contemporary era, a “divorce” has occurred, but with the new millennium this thread appears to be rewinding itself, art is no longer understood as a mere propaganda tool. One should remember the opening of the Vatican Pavilion at the Venice Biennale when Antonio Bolucci was director of the Vatican Museums in 2013. Do you think this is true or false?

His observation is correct at any age. Thinking of Italy, I recommend, many Madonnas from the “400 and” 500, many paintings from the “600 or” 700, are workshop works without a special sense of holiness. However, since the end of the nineteenth century and more clearly in the twentieth century, the separation seems to manifest itself but is more nominal than real because the great artists of all sides and ideologies have always confronted themselves with the sacred, they have always aware of the need of the one who has doubts. Because this is what a great artist does: he raises doubts, offers ways that are not answers but are possible.
No great artist has ever distanced himself from the sacred in a priori way. I find the word “divorce” excessive, and I prefer “tortured love” because all great love is because it is real: it was a much more complex relationship, the result of a radically changed society. It happened in part because art lost references, interlocutors, and on the other hand, the Church matured a distrust in the ability of contemporary art to become an expression of the sacred. But the one who denounced it and uttered a key word was Paul VI, that is, the founder of the group I run. After a reversal that began in the 1930s, very young, at first as Archbishop of Milan and then as Pope in 1964, nine months after his election, the art world called to the Sistine Chapel and said: Sorry, we preferred the art of painting, a labor of little cost and worthless, to being able to listen To you, to assign your role as poets and prophets. In that duo, ‘the poet’ and ‘the prophet’, Paul VI identified two central features of every art of all time and contemporary art in particular: the ability to change form, and to synthesize something the artist himself might not be aware of, namely existence. The other and elsewhere can be called, and I use these two terms with a capital letter, which are the heart of the Christian and Catholic message.

Maria Lai worked in the church, for example with Via Cruces.

Performed for three churches: one for Cagliari partly dispersed, the church of Olasai is in the church, the church of San Paolo a Cardo was rejected by the citizens in 2008 and part documented in the book: it is a summary, a fine work of stones and strings, with the stations of the cross in the Ogliastra Sardinian, the language of his childhood. Maria Lai faces ecclesiastical clients as Matisse, Lucio Fontana, Mario Ceroli, Léger and other greats, and the refusal of one of them in Via Crucis underscores the complexity of the process of renovating our churches.


Due to a legal dispute between Maria Lai Archive and the Stazione dell’Arte – Foundation, in order not to incur fines or possible legal action, we refrain from publishing photos of the exhibition that took place at the Maxxi Museum in Rome: we regret that because our photo gallery does not convey an idea of ​​the liveliness and diversity of the exhibition. Artist’s work. Those who wish will be able to search for other images, for example the sources we publish the links below.

Click here for the collection of modern and contemporary art in the Vatican Museums

Click here for book details

Click here to watch the 2019-20 exhibition at Maxxi “Maria Lai. Hold your hand in the sun

Click here for Art Station – Foundation

Click here for Maria Lai’s archive

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