'Nella tua vita errante o fratello mio fisso abbi sempre l'occhio alla ciambella e mai al foro nell'uno nove nove quattro' ('During your life of wandering my brother, always keep your eye fixed firmly on the doughnut and never on the hole').
Inscription on the upper and lower borders of the present lot.
'The star-filled sky of Kabul is the same as the plain desert'
'The fresh rain drops from the Kabul sky onto the room of Alighiero e Boetti'
Inscription on the left and right borders of the present lot.
Boetti's Mappe - the embroidered series of world maps that he made between 1971 and 1994 in partnership with Afghan women weavers living in Kabul and later as refugees in Peshawar - are the best-known and most-loved of all his works. Reflective of the constantly changing patterns of the political world map as it moves through time, and also of a long-running and intensely personal East/West dialogue that ultimately determined much of the course of Boetti's art and life, they present a profound vision of the world as a vast, holistic and intercommunicative entity.
This radiant and dark-toned example, dated on its front 1994, but actually begun in 1991, is a unique and poignant example completed in 1994. Executed in a similar format to the black Mappa of 1989 now owned by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, it is a similarly large-scale work, extending well over 2m in length that sports a rare dark-blue sea. Its date of 1994 refers to the year in which Boetti finally received the completed tapestry in Italy, while its format and the flags of countries such as Afghanistan (1987-89) and Namibia (pre-1991) upon it identify it as based on a world map of 1989. In addition, the twin inscriptions on this Mappa - articulating the East-West dialogue between Boetti, in Rome and the Afghan weavers at this time living in exile from their homeland in Peshawar - reflects upon a central tenet of Boetti and the Mappe's aesthetic: the idea of unity and division. Referring to the idea that although Boetti is, like his map, divided, both geographically and politically, from his Afghan weavers they are all, their Farsi inscriptions imply, united in one world under one sky. The inscription on the left hand side of this Mappa reads: The star-filled sky of Kabul is the same as the plain desert while that on the right reads: The fresh rain drops from the Kabul sky onto the room of Alighiero e Boetti.
The reference to the 'room' of the artist may refer to Boetti's Afghan home and the 'One' hotel he built in Kabul, while the assertion of him as 'Alighiero e Boetti', refers to the artist's inherent sense of his own self as a duality, one he called 'Alighiero and Boetti. 'Alighiero and Boetti' was a doubled identity, which the artist had come to think of in terms of being a kind of split or twinned personality who existed simultaneously in both Italy and the land that he had come to regard as his spiritual homeland, Afghanistan. The Italian inscription for this map which Boetti had given to his Afghan workers is, in this work, a similarly philosophical piece of advice: Nella tua vita errante o fratello mio fisso abbi sempre l'occhio alla ciambella e mai al foro nell'uno nove nove quattro ('During your life of wandering my brother, always keep your eye fixed firmly on the donut and never on the hole').
Of all of Boetti's many diverse creations, the Mappe are the simplest and most elegant encapsulation, within one single and seemingly familiar image, of the artist's enduring, part mystic, part conceptual, aesthetic that informed all his creative output from the late 1960s until 1994. Radiant and ultimately optimistic images of the political world-map as a fascinatingly diverse single entity held in a state of perpetual flux, the Mappe have also, in recent years, increasingly come to be seen as powerful and even perhaps prophetic icons of the fluid, fast-paced and perpetually-changing, globalised image of the world in the 21st Century. For me, the artist said of these works, '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.' (Alighiero e Boetti, 1974, quoted in Alberto Boatto, Alighiero & Boetti, Ravenna, 1984, p. 122).
Boetti's Mappe originally evolved from an early work entitled 'Twelve forms from June '67 Onwards' that presented the outlines of twelve countries in a state of political crisis or military conflict in the year, 1967. 'What interested me in these drawings,' Boetti remarked, was the fact that these outlines 'were not spawned by my imagination, but prompted by artillery attacks, air raids and diplomatic negotiations.' (Alighiero Boetti quoted in Alighiero Boetti, exh. cat., Frankfurt Am Main, 1998 p. 65) First, in his blueprint-like drawing Political Planisphere and ultimately in the embroidered Mappe themselves, Boetti expanded this concept to include the whole world and the constantly changing passage of human history as it seemed to write itself across the world map. Creating painstakingly hand-crafted embroidered images that depict the political world map at a specific moment in time but which are themselves made over a long period, (between one and two years in most cases, and, as in the case of the present work, often even longer), the Mappe are a powerful graphic expression of time as well as of humanity's own temporal relationship with a divided concept of the world.
Images of time and of the unpredictable history of man, the Mappe are also collectively, if also inadvertently, specifically expressive of the turbulent history of Afghanistan between the years of their creation (1971 to 1994). Of the many changing flags representing Afghanistan, this Mappa for example, displays the second flag of the 'Republic of Afghanistan' used by the country between 1987 and 1989. Like other Mappe from 1989 therefore, it records the last period of the Communist-backed presidency of Dr Najibullah who was then appealing to the United Nations at this time for help before the taking of Kabul by the US-backed Mujahadin.
One of the last Mappe made by refugees from the Afghan war with whom Boetti had re-established contact when they resettled over the border in Peshawar, the manner and location of this work's manufacture is another important reflection on the fluid nature of man-made lines and borders that these works aim to express. The Mappe were made in order to 'erase the distance between Rome and Kabul' Boetti wrote revealingly on the border of one map. In these works, the artist's innate sense of the inherent unity and diversity of all things and of the Heraclitan and Sufi principle of an intrinsic 'ordine e disordine' (order and disorder) lying at the heart of all existence was transcribed and extended into a real East-West cultural and commercial dialogue and exchange as well as, as this work shows, an especially heartfelt personal one too.
After the creation of the concept of the Mappe in his Political Planisphere, the logical expansion of this concept of a unified world divided into colourful abstract parts, had been to attempt to fuse those divisions and transcend their artifice by actually physically crossing such borders in the active and participatory form of travel and the establishment of cultural interchange. Boetti first visited Afghanistan in 1971, and on his second visit later that year had established his 'One' hotel in Kabul and commissioned the first of what would become the ongoing and continuous series of Mappe. In this way, as in his postal works and years before telecommunications and the creation of the internet would shrink the world, Boetti was beginning to expand his unified and global concept of art and humanity through the mechanisms of trade and information exchange that were already extant. In the commissioning of the production of his Mappe from local women weavers for example, Boetti effectively opened a new commercial East-West dialogue not based on exploitative trade but on a spirit of cross-cultural collaboration that ultimately had an important influence for both Afghanistan and Europe. Among the first artists not only to have his work manufactured by assistants but also in the non-mechanised archaic and folk art handicraft tradition of a 'Third World' country, the Mappe represent a bridging of the modern and the ancient worlds as much as they do a crossing of the traditional East-West divide. At the same time, in Afghanistan, Boetti's commissioning of the Mappe eventually had the effect of re-invigorating the ancient weaving tradition in Afghanistan that had been dying out.
During the Russian invasion of the country in 1979 and the later period of Communist-backed government relevant to this work, the continuing manufacture of the Mappe in exile even inspired the creation of a new tradition of weaving propagandistic geo-political carpets and kilims protesting the occupation. In cultural terms too, the Mappe, besides providing economic sustenance to many Afghan families, also came to prove instructional; introducing all who saw them, to the first world maps, and indeed, sometimes, the very first maps that many of them had ever seen. Through the continued production of the Mappe and their constant need to be updated to the latest changes to the political world map, political information about the wider world entered into the traditionally closed and highly insular spaces of Afghan society in a kind of clandestine way.
The importance of this trans-global cross-cultural dialogue lies at the heart of the Mappe and is often asserted in these works through the twinned messages, inscriptions and titles written in Italian and Farsi that Boetti chose to use as their borders or frames. Using phrases split into their own individual letters and set on a differently coloured background in the manner of his Arazzo, these statements not only established a cross-cultural sense of unity and diversity but also pointed to the same inherent unity and diversity existing within the properties of words and language. The twinned messages on this Mappa articulating the sense of division, longing and separation felt by both Boetti and his Afghan partners during this difficult period of displacement after the Soviet invasion, make it one of the most moving and articulate expressions of this concept in all of the series.