Sale: Sotheby’s, London, Contemporary Art Evening Auction, 15 February 2012, Lot 11
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
In 1971, Boetti made his first trip to Afghanistan. Catering to his long-standing fascination with non-Western cultures, it allowed him to break away from the Italian identity of Arte Povera. Inaugurating ideas of cultural exchange, during his first stay in Afghanistan Boetti began working with local craftswomen to create embroidery works, returning to Afghanistan the same year with a white linen sheet marked with the plans of his first Mappa. This beautifully simplistic design originated in two earlier works on paper entitled Planisfero Politico (1969). Here, pre-printed, seemingly banal maps of the world were modified to contain the relevant flag within the national borders of each landmass. This design, updated in line with world events, informed the series until its discontinuation after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989.
Seemingly celebratory, Boetti conveyss the child-like wonder born out of conceiving the world in its totality: "A work of cosmic dimensions which sees every nation represented in the geographical form of its existence and in the joyfulness of the colours of its ﬂag. It is a piece which hails from a desire to approach another culture and be integrated therein. It is a familiar form wherein we can increasingly identify as citizens of the world" (Alighiero Boetti quoted in: Giacinto Di Pietrantonio, ‘Alighiero Boetti: united colors’, Flash Art, Vol. 26, No. 168, 1993, p. 73). Yet behind the playful aesthetic, the map witnesses an inherent fracturing. Territoriality infers disputes, political conflict and an insistence on ‘difference’. Created in 1983, here we see Namibia left blank, reflecting its state of civil war. Boetti consciously limits creative intervention beyond the map’s conceptual basis, as he reminds us: “what interested me was that these drawings were not born out of my imagination but out of shelling, air raids, and diplomatic negotiations” (Alighiero Boetti quoted in: Jean-Christophe Ammann, Alighiero Boetti: Catalogo generale Tomo Primo, Milan 2009, p. 73).
Following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 Boetti’s designs were communicated to agents and returned by post up to five years later. In line with post-structuralist thought, Boetti embraced plurality and collective creativity, disavowing singular authorship. The colour of the sea was never defined by Boetti’s, leading to various interpretations by the weavers. Whilst this often resulted in a pale blue, this striking example utilises an abundant white; an absence of colour which contrasts sonorously with the vibrant patchwork of flags. The achromatic interpretation echoes Jasper Johns iconic 1955 White Flag, which also called into question the politicisation of colour. A striking jet-black counterpart to this version of the Mappa, sits in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Both push the map further from a naturalistic representation of land and sea, emphasising its abstract nature as a construct.
The cross-cultural dialogue imbued by the Mappe stands as an affront to the borders it demarcates. As noted by Mark Godfrey “the polychrome waters are another sign of the dual origins of the maps, but might also be read as spaces beyond the control of nationalism, and spaces in which a new visionary geography is imagined” (Mark Godfrey ‘Boetti and Afghanistan’, in: Exhibition Catalogue, New York, Museum of Modern Art, (and travelling), Alighiero Boetti: Game Plan, 2012, p. 168). Each Mappa is bordered with a unique phrase which alludes to Boetti’s world view. Here we are offered the poetic maxim of ‘mettere al mondo il mondo a Kabul Afghanistan’ (‘give birth to the world in Kabul Afghanistan’). With Afghanistan still occupied in 1983, Boetti saw a way of life that he adored threatened by change. Woven into Mappa is the fragility of social relations but also an enduring belief in the value of culture to bind humanity.
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