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Alighiero Boetti (1940-1994)
Poperty to be Sold to Benefit a Charitable Foundation
Alighiero Boetti (1940-1994)

Mappa del mondo

Details
Alighiero Boetti (1940-1994)
Mappa del mondo
embroidered tapestry
45½ x 85 in. (115.6 x 215.9 cm.)
Executed in 1988.
Provenance
Sperone Westwater, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1988

Brought to you by

Robert Manley
Robert Manley

Lot Essay

This work is registered in the Archivio Alighiero Boetti, Rome, under no. 1303.


Representation's formal qualities fascinated Alighiero Boetti, and this exquisitely executed Mappa represents that, as well as his interest in the inherently abstract nature of national borders and the geo-political environment. Boetti conceived the work, which a group of Afghani refugee women living in Pakistan then executed. Boetti's employment of these women adds a distinctly personal element to his work's wider narrative, reflecting national boundaries' transient nature and the overwhelming ties a person has to their homeland. The flags of nations that are woven into the fabric of this work may act as brightly colored emblems of national identity. However, with the added dimension of history they also symbolize the constant shift of the world map, as seemingly permanent borders constantly fluctuate, as countries disappear from the map only to have new countries - with new flags replace them.

In this particular Mappa, a multi-colored patchwork of national flags covers the globe's surface, offset by the ocean's opulent blue. Boetti executed other examples of Mappa in a kaleidoscope of colors. However, this particular blue, almost arabesque, provides one of the most successful backdrops with which to highlight his tapestry of nations. The women Boetti selected to express his concept have carried it out with skilled artisanship, their precision stitching rendering the national borders. But this work is much more than a craft object; it also documents the world at a precise moment when national boundaries delineated powerful empires that faced off across the globe. We can see the political domination of the two global superpowers in the large red swathe that represents the old communist bloc, pitting itself against the might of the United States of America. We can also see in this map the startling prominence of the Brazilian and Indian flads, prophesying the changes in global influence that have occured in the two decades since Mappa del mondo was created.

Boetti conceived of his Mappa as aesthetically representing a global phenomenon: human migration caused by conflict and war. To this end he employed groups of specialist workers who would translate his concepts into physical form. His first maps were created in 1971 by textile workers in Afghanistan who had centuries of experience in tapestry and carpet weaving. Following the Soviet invasion in 1979, the villagers fled their homeland, setting up new villages and communities across the Pakistani border in Peshwar. This particular Mappa has a highly personal inscription, written in Farsi around the border describing how the work was created by a group of Afghan women who had fled their homeland, fearing the criminal consequences of working. This poignantly mixes graphic representation and personal history, powerfully encapsulating all that Beotti was trying to achieve.
Boetti focused for much of his career on expressing ideas about order and disorder. From beginning, he was searching for a suitable theme to articulate aesthetically his interest in the world's fundamental structures. His world map and its collective production method are intrinsically tied together, as he noted, "My works emerge from the changing forms of co-operation. I am interested in primary matters, such as the alphabet, the map, the newspapers, among other things owing to the spring which tautens between order and disorder" (A. Boetti quoted in R. Lauter, Alighiero Boetti: Mettere al mondo il mondo, Ostfildern-Ruit, 1998, p. 29).

Boetti first visited Afghanistan in 1971, and on his second visit later that year commissioned the first of what would become an ongoing series of Mappa. In this way, Boetti expanded his unified, global concept of art and humanity through the already extant mechanisms of trade and information exchange - as in his postal works - years before telecommunications and the internet would shrink the world. In commissioning local women weavers to produce his Mappa, for example, Boetti effectively opened a new commercial East-West dialogue based, not on exploitative trade, but on a spirit of cross-cultural collaboration, which ultimately had an important influence for both Afghanistan and Europe. Among the first artists to have his work not only manufactured by assistants but also in the non-mechanised archaic and folk art handicraft tradition of a "Third World" country, the Mappa bridge modern and ancient worlds as much as they do the traditional East-West divide. At the same time, in Afghanistan, Boetti commissioning the Mappa eventually reinvigorated the ancient weaving tradition that had been dying out.

Mappa's simplicity is among its most remarkable features. The rich kaleidoscope of colors and instantly recognizable iconography combine to form a work of remarkable power and poignancy. The work's message is all too real for the women who executed it, and this, for Boetti, is where the real beauty of the work layas, "the work of the embroidered Mappa is the ultimate in beauty. For that work I did nothing, chose nothing, in the sense that: the world is made as it is, not as I designed it, the flags are those that exist, and I did not design them; in short, I did absolutely nothing; when the basic idea, the concept, emerges everything else requires no choosing" (quoted in Alberto Boatto, Alighiero & Boetti, Ravenna, 1984, p. 122).

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