“If you could reach this small, minute, moment of now, it would contain all, from the beginning to the end of time; as if to say that it is the smallest part and yet the largest. Boetti reached the same conclusions; and even if a lifetime is not long enough to fully comprehend, I feel that he died too early. There was so much for him to do, but somehow maybe he saw it at the end of his life. The whole of humanity can be seen as a tiny drop that becomes one with the ocean. Perhaps he saw it as a whole. I feel that he did.”
—S. HOUSHIARY,quoted in Alighiero e Boetti, exh. cat., Whitechapel Gallery, London, 1999, p. 73
Within a beautiful polychromatic tapestry, Alighiero Boetti’s Frédéric Bruly Bouabré (1993) presents the viewer with a complex visual riddle. Larger than Boetti’s typical arazzi (tapestries), this vibrantly imposing work is comprised of grids, each overladen with a contrastingly coloured letter. The composition is exquisitely rendered in a weave of pink, blue, black, and canary yellow. Aesthetically, the letters form an abstract structure of strict geometry, while conceptually they are laden with meaning, forming the basis of Boetti’s cryptographic puzzle. Upon inspection, the work reveals the name of fellow artist Frédéric Bruly Bouabré, repetitively written in a disordered system that impedes legibility. Boetti and Bouabré developed a close friendship, underscored by their 1995 shared exhibition Worlds Envisioned at Dia Art Foundation in New York. Despite cultural differences, the two artists shared an affinity for cosmography and an interest in the criteria by which knowledge is recorded and classified. Inspired by a vision, Bouabré, an Ivorian member of the Bété tribe, developed the first written script for his language, and later acted as an interpreter to French ethnographers studying the region. Evocative of Bouabré’s linguistic pursuits, Boetti’s work develops a unique and highly regulated syntax of coded messages. This poetic examination into the organising principles of the world is also seen in Boetti’s choice of medium. Grounded in Arte Povera’s exploration of materiality, Boetti had commissioned Afghan families from the Peshawar region of Pakistan to manufacture his embroideries since 1989. He explained that ‘The different colour of each shape was chosen by the women. In order to avoid establishing any hierarchy among them, I used them all. Actually, my concern is to avoid to make choices according to my taste or to invent systems that they will choose on my behalf’ (A. Boetti, quoted in A. Zevi, Alghiero e Boetti: Scrivere, Ricamare, Disengare, Corriere della Sera, 19 January 1992). Executed the year before Boetti’s untimely death, Frédéric Bruly Bouabré’s intricate system of interwoven letters exudes a beguiling poetic resonance. This rare composition honours his friendship with Bouabré through its exploration into their shared interest of epistemological knowledge.