This work is registered in the Archivio Boetti, Rome, under no. 6520.
The best-known and most-loved of all Boetti's works, the Mappe are a series of embroidered world maps made in partnership with Afghan women weavers living in Kabul and later as refugees in Peshawar between 1971 and 1994. 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.
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 aesthetic part mystic, part conceptual, that informed all his work from the late 1960s to his premature death in 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-track and perpetually-changing globalised image of the world in the 21st century.
For Boetti, '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' (Alighiero e Boetti, 1974, quoted in Alberto Boatto, Alighiero & Boetti, Ravenna, 1984, p. 122).
This Mappa, a large work from 1983 dominated by a rare and pale lime-coloured background, makes reference to what had become, by the time it was made, several of the inextricable links that then existed between Boetti's art and life as well as with the people and country of Afghanistan.
At the top of the work is inscribed, in alternating square tones of black and white, the author of the Mappe and the time and place of its making. 'Alighiero Boetti, Kabul, Afghanistan, 1983'. Across the bottom, the explanation for the black and white colouring of the surrounding inscriptions is given with the phrase La natura una faccenda ottusa senza color (Nature is an obtuse matter without colour). This phrase refers to a sequence of drawings made in 1980 that had been given this title and about which Boetti explained: 'We... need to perceive... oneness in things, instead of always dividing them into categories and classifications, and above all antitheses of the good/bad, black/white kind. Things are always extremely mixed. Just observe the rules of physics certain mechanisms of life and certain beauties of the world, and certain kinds of happiness in the world... There's a series of works of mine that is called La natura una faccenda ottusa (Nature is an obtuse matter) in which I wanted to present an image of nature as formless and colourless, only a senseless hurrying towards life, while it's the mental gaze of man, thanks to the attention he chooses to focus on the things of the world which is alone able to grasp its colours, scenes, beauties' (Alighiero Boetti, 'From Today to Tomorrow', 1988, in Alighiero e Boetti Bringing the World into the World, exh. cat., Naples, 2009, p. 209).
With the black and white framed map of the world, with its many colours and its vivid lime oceans, so radiant in contrast, Boetti here seems to offer the world map as a prime example of man's ability, if he so wishes, to 'grasp' the 'colours', 'scenes' and 'beauty' of the world in all its fascinating order and disorder. Running down the side of this map are two other black and white inscriptions written in Farsi and, like the Italian texts, also segmented, in the manner of Boetti's Arazzi into their calligraphic component parts. These two phrases are ones, which when split, like the world map, into their constituent parts, reiterate the theme of 'ordine e disordine' (order and disorder) that lies inherent within the structure of all language. These two inscriptions read: 'Many of those who start on the path of contemplation through art. Few remain on the path of contemplation and art'. Probably referring to Boetti's own path as an artist, this inscription may well have been one thought up by the Afghan weavers themselves and written as a message from them to the artist back in Rome.
Created in 1983, four years after the Soviet invasion of the country had effectively prohibited Boetti from visiting his friends and collaborators in Kabul and at a time of great disruption and uncertainty in Afghanistan, this Mappa is one of several works from this period that attempt to continue the cross-cultural dialogue that Boetti's work had established.
The Mappe were made, Boetti once wrote revealingly on the border of one Mappa, in order to 'erase the distance between Rome and Kabul'. Essentially images of time and also of the unpredictable history of man, the Mappe also inadvertently became, particularly expressive of the turbulent history of Afghanistan in the late twentieth century.
Boetti had first visited Afghanistan in 1971, and on his second visit later that year established his 'One' hotel in Kabul and commissioned the first of what would become an ongoing and continuous series of Mappe. This commissioning of the production of his Mappe from local women weavers effectively opened what was perhaps the first commercial East-West dialogue of the twentieth century, not to be based on exploitative trade but on a spirit of cross-cultural collaboration. Indeed, in Afghanistan, Boetti's commissioning of the Mappe eventually had the effect of re-invigorating the ancient weaving tradition in that country that had hitherto been dying out. During the Russian invasion in 1979 and throughout the later period of Communist-backed government, Boetti's 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 at this time and their constant need to be updated to the latest changes to the political world map, political information about the wider world also entered into the traditionally closed and highly insular spaces of Afghan society in a kind of clandestine way.
This work is one of a small number of Mappe executed in and around 1983 in which, on account of the continuing confusion and political uncertainty in Afghanistan and amongst the weavers still able and willing to work for Boetti at this time, the artist allowed the Afghan artisans to compose the imagery for the Afghan flag themselves. In many of these 1983 Mappe, the embroiderers, ignorant of the current political status of their own country, have left the flag of Afghanistan white. In this work, onto a white background they have elegantly woven the name 'Khalq' meaning 'the masses' and referring, no doubt, to the ruling 'Khalq' faction who had in fact recently been replaced by the 'Parcham' (banner) party whose official flag was a series of black red and green stripes. As Luca Cerazzi has written of this unique and poignant period in the creation of the Mappe, there are many possible explanations for the embroidering of the Afghan flag in white at this time. 'It is possible' he writes, 'that the flag was not embroidered or was embroidered white for mere practical reasons: the uncertainty of the political situation or ignorance on the part of the work co-ordinators: as a form of protest on the part of the Afghans against the Russian invasion: or to represent a desire for peace in the strife of the Afghan political situation, experienced from the viewpoint of the refugees in Peshawar. (Salman) Ali, (Boetti's friend and co-ordinator with the Afghan artisans) even today, cannot provide a precise explanation. Whatever the reason, the white flag of Afghanistan remains a perfect metaphor of the dramatic, tumultuous history of the country in particular, and of world political history in general' (Luca Cerizza, Alighiero e Boetti. Mappa, London, 2008, p. 89).