signed and dated Kabul Afghanistan 1984 on the overlap
Mappa, executed in 1983-84, is an extraordinary example of Alighiero Boetti's celebrated eponymous body of work, which is universally regarded as the culminating achievement of the artist's career. Embroidered with vibrant hues, Mappa is a joyful explosion of colours and shapes, where the rich blue shade of the sea creates the backdrop to a kaleidoscopic ensemble of the various countries' flags manipulated to fit within their borders.
In 1969, Boetti took a printed world map and coloured and patterned the countries with the hues of their respective flags, creating the first Mappa on paper, Planisfero Politico. As the artist has explained: "the world is made the way it is and I have not drawn it; the flags are those that exist anyway...Once the basic idea is there, the concept, then everything else is already chosen" (the artist cited in: Exhibition Catalogue, Vienna, Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Alighiero Boetti 1965-1994, 1996, p. 199). Fascinated by classifying alterations in political geography, which he interpreted as a human desire to demarcate the earth, Boetti would go on to expand the concept of Planisfero Politico into his world-renowned series of embroidered Maps. This series would bear witness to every change that affected countries, their borders and their flags and provides an extraordinary account of political geography from 1971 to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the historic dissolution of the Soviet Union. As observed by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Boetti's series of Mappe "act as a metaphor for the fluidity of human relationships and communities" (Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Arte Povera, London 1999, p. 85).
The stunning woven and embroidered Mappe, executed first in Afghanistan and then in Pakistan after 1988, illuminate Boetti's perceived separation between conception and execution. For Boetti, the artist was the creative force, generating ideas and conceiving designs, the execution of which he would delegate to others. Rather than indicating technical weakness, in fact, Boetti strongly believed in the plurality of the creative process and always considered suggestions from those who worked with him.
The present Mappa was designed by Alighiero Boetti in 1983 in his studio in Trastevere in Rome and subsequently sent to Kabul, Afghanistan to be embroidered as the artist had been unable to visit the country since the 1979 Soviet invasion. As observed by Annemarie Sauzeau, the text included in the Mappe of 1983 represents the artist's challenge and protest against the military occupation that did not allow him to return to his beloved Kabul (cited in: Jean-Christophe Ammann, Alighiero Boetti, Catalogo Generale, Vol. I, Milan 2009, p. 47). In the present Mappa the mentioned text "Alighiero e Boetti Kabul Afghanistan nell'anno millenovecentoottantatre" is clearly legible along the top and right edge.
In Mappa there is a visual dichotomy between the tectonic changes of Nature that have been formed through the ages and the comparatively transitory boundaries of Mankind: "In the Map, you see Nature but also how people have their dramatic influence, creating states and flags" (Jean Christophe Amman in: Exhibition Catalogue, Turin, Castello di Rivoli Museo d'Arte Contemporanea, Arte Povera in collection, 2000-01, p. 130). By laying bare the physiognomy of the earth, Boetti interrogates the supposed significance of human organization, or what Dan Fox describes as: "the inherent absurdity of imposing abstract human concepts upon the natural world, as if our efforts might reveal some Platonic essence in the landscape or in the passage of time" (Dan Fox,Alighiero e Boetti, London 2000, pp. 105-06).
Mappa results from Boetti's masterful employment of the universally familiar world map, which, with its highly readable scheme of bright colours, encapsulates his mature approach to these wide-ranging lines of enquiry. The notion of territoriality and the structure of the map is a theme with which many artists have engaged. Enlisted to explain geography, delineate territory and describe one country's relationship with another, maps have been employed for centuries by cartographers and artists alike as propaganda tools and formats for political commentary. Boetti's first embroidered Mappa came ten years after Jasper Johns' Map of 1961. While Jasper Johns depicted colourful American States with undefined borders and stamp-like names, elevating the banal and commonplace to the status of fine art and championed Pop-Art by using ready-mades, Boetti borrowed world maps in order to portray conceptually the evolution of the political scene during the Cold War.
Charged with global political awareness, Mappa is infused with Boetti's natural sense of poetry and spontaneous inclination toward beauty. The present work embodies Boetti's artistic evolution beyond Arte Povera and his fascination with cultural 'otherness', which the artist filters through his conceptual understanding of fate and time. In the artist's own words, "I invent the world as it is, without inventing anything" (the artist cited in: Exhibition Catalogue, Villeurbanne, Le Nouveau Musée, Alighiero e Boetti, 1986, p. 36).
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