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Uma Wang and Maria Lai: Connecting Texture and Familiarity

Uma Wang, renowned for founding one of China’s first international labels, draws inspiration from a treasure trove of art and history. In particular, she has been outspoken on the influence of Maria Lai, a Sardinian artist known for her broad work connecting textiles and literature.

Maria Lai, Giuliana’s Bed Sheet, 1999 © Marianne Boesky Gallery

During her sixty year career, Maria Lai created artwork inspired by her upbringing in the small town of Ulassai and her relationship to the world. She created using mediums from painting to pencil to sculpture, but was most attracted to the familiar nature of textiles, which became the focus of her later career. While she participated in group shows around the world, it was only after her death in 2013 that she commanded international attention. A retrospective of her work, Holding the Sun by the Hand, toured the globe in 2019, showcasing a wealth of her textile work.

“She is good at establishing rhythm and relationships with a galaxy of materials, connecting fabric and thread with other textures. I believe many people will be attracted to the sense of security in her works.”

Uma Wang, April 27th 2020, Interview with Jing Daily

Lai’s most well known for her focus on literature as vital nourishment for the human experience. Her later pieces often mimic the look of open books, inviting a familiarity and curiosity in the audience. There are no defining features other than the lines of text, with words completely illegible and unreadable, adding a layer of intrigue that is difficult to pin down. Often these non-words will spill off the page, as if you could pull a thread and watch the whole book come undone. The threads unspool and knot together, creating an even larger and more mysterious context. There is a sense of comfort in Lai’s work, the familiarity of words and textile, combined with an unease in the bedlam of the knots and the sacrality of finding a forbidden text, foreign and indecipherable. 

Maria Lai’s ‘Ciò che non so’, 1984 © Musacchio, Ianniello & Pasqualini

We see these themes crop up in Uma Wang’s designs as well; familiarity, and agelessness blended with a mystery you cannot quite put your finger on. Uma has a command of texture and fabric as well, creating garments that ignite the senses in every way. With designs influenced by eons of human aesthetic, both artists clearly have a deep respect for the world around them, and let their designs take shape in an ever-shifting environment. In art or clothing, Uma Wang and Maria Lai remind us of the solace in connecting to a history of deeply human experience.