Lot 22
  • 22

Alighiero Boetti

700,000 - 900,000 GBP
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  • Alighiero Boetti
  • Mappa
  • signed, dated 1979 and inscribed KABUL AFGHANISTAN on the overlap
  • embroidered tapestry
  • 91.6 by 142.2cm.; 36 1/8 by 56in.


Galleria Emilio Mazzoli, Modena

Alessandro Grassi, Milan (acquired directly from the above in 1980)

Thence by descent to the present owner


Achille Bonito Oliva, Collezione Privata, Milan 1993, pp. 140-41, illustrated in colour

Jean-Christophe Ammann, Alighiero Boetti Catalogo Generale Vol. II, Milan 2012, p. 395, no. 1223, illustrated in colour


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, although the overall tonality is warmer and richer in the original. Condition: This work is in good condition. There is evidence of minor handling to the canvas border and evidence of rust from previous staples on the overturn edge. The work has been sewn to a new linen using fine polyester thread and mounted onto a stretcher. The wooden stretcher and new staples have been lined with Japanese paper for conservation purposes. There is some discolouration to the white thread and canvas margin.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

An ensemble of vibrant flags manipulated to fit within the geographical delineation of the world's borders and set against an azure blue oceanic background, the present work is a vivid example of Alighiero Boetti’s most venerated cycle of works. His series of world maps, produced in transcontinental collaboration with female Afghan weavers between 1971 and 1994, bear witness to the ever changing global landscape and provide an extraordinary account of the political geography from 1971 through to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, including the historic dissolution of the Soviet Union. As observed by Carolyn Christov Bakargiev, Boetti's Mappe "act as a metaphor for the fluidity of human relationships and communities" (Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Arte Povera, London 1999, p. 85). They are politically perspicacious comments on our geo-political world and as such stood to be significant prophetic visions.  

Boetti first turned his attention to the printed world map in 1969. Delineating national identities by patterning individual countries with the hues of their respective flags, he created the first Mappa on paper, Planisfero Politico. The artist then went on to expand this demarcation of the man-made lines and borders that divide our earth in his renowned series of embroidered maps. Instituting a global network of artistic production Boetti relayed the design instructions for his works to a few select men in Afghanistan, each managers of a team of female embroiderers, who then fabricated his designs. Isolated from the manufacturing process, the artist embraced the notion of cross-cultural collaboration, as well as elements of chance. Whilst the colours within flags were proscribed, the oceans were not accompanied by specific instructions and thus were subject to diverging inclinations or interpretations by the embroiderers, as the artist explained: “their choices of colour from the designs of my colour schemes resulted in the combinations of colour possibilities that were impossible to predict. The element of surprise is like the disorder invading the formal order of the grid” (Alighiero Boetti quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Tate Modern, Alighiero Boetti: Game Plan, 2012, p. 166). Hence, bodies of water vary in colour throughout the Mappe, encompassing yellow, green, black, pink and grey, alongside a majority executed in blue. The black Mappa (1989) in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, is a notable example. This cross-cultural miscommunication perfectly realised Boetti’s conceptual desire to curate the unexpected, and orchestrate global encounters. If the iconography of the national flags suggests the artificial systems of division that humans impose upon the earth, then the multi-coloured seas represent a place for creativity and freedom sheltered from the constraints of patriotic identity, evincing a truly international body of water.

This unique transcontinental exchange was further articulated in the embroidered verses that adorn the borders of the Mappe. In the present work for example the words: “Per nuovi desideri, nuove autonomie, nuove gerarchie, Alighiero Boetti vennero in Afghanistan negl’anni settanta” border the vibrant blue sea. Translated as “For new desires, new autonomies, new hierarchies, Alighiero and Boetti came to Afghanistan in the seventies”, the text poignantly alludes to the artist’s first trips to Kabul in the early 1970s, and the hope and inspiration this trans-global collaboration provided for the weavers.

Establishing this unique dialogue between East and West, during a period shaped by political unrest and segregation, was a truly prescient envisioning of the relatively transitory nature of the political world and fluidity of our imposed cultural boundaries. The clairvoyance of Boetti’s cosmopolitan approach to art production has been described by the curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, a life-long friend of the artist: “Boetti told me on that first encounter that in our time the art world would become much more of a polyphony of centres. It would go beyond Western art. He made me understand that globalisation would change the art world forever; yet at the same time we had a responsibility not just to embrace it, but to work with globalisation in the way that it produces difference by resisting homogenisation. You see this idea in his maps” (Hans Ulrich Obrist, ‘One of the Most Important Days in My Life: Alighiero Boetti at Tate Modern’, Tate Etc., Issue 24, Spring 2012, online resource).