Lot 54
  • 54

Alighiero Boetti

800,000 - 1,200,000 GBP
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Alighiero Boetti
  • Mappa
  • signed, dated 1984 and inscribed Kabul Afghanistan 
  • embroidered tapestry 
  • 118 by 182cm.; 46 1/2 by 71 5/8 in.


Edward Totah Gallery, London

Private Collection, Italy (acquired from the above in the mid 1980s) 

Thence by descent to the present owners 


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate although the overall tonality is slightly lighter in the original. Condition: This work is in very good condition. Very close inspection reveals some minor discolouration to the white thread of the border and a few thread pulls in places which would appear to be inherent to the work's execution.
"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

Executed in 1984, Mappa forms part of Alighiero Boetti’s most iconic series. Easily distinguishable by their brightly coloured and highly detailed depiction of the world as a flattened planisphere, Boetti’s Mappe combine his fascination for classification and geography with a focus on political reality. Silky embroidery thread is used to create a patchwork of national emblems which gradually change over time to show political shifts and changes across the world. In this Mappa of 1984 a border of both Arabic and Farsi text surrounds a vibrant blue sea. On the left-hand side the text tells us the story behind the origin of the work, ‘Alghiero e Boetti Afghanistan’ and on the right a poetic statement can be translated as ‘the nature of an obtuse/dull affair’. The year of production can also be found in the far right-hand corner of the text, ‘84’, and Arabic script runs across the top and bottom of the border. The unique dimensions and text that surrounds each Mappa ensure that no two are ever the same. For Boetti “the work of the embroidered Mappa is the maximum of beauty… the world is made as it is, not as I designed it” (Luca Cerizza, Alighiero e Boetti: Mappa, London 2008, p. 1).

In March 1971 Boetti travelled to the Afghan capital of Kabul for the first time, remaining there for one month. This trip marked the beginning of the production of his archetypal Mappe series by the local Afghan women and was a trip he would repeat each year until 1979 when the country was invaded by the Soviet Union. The production of the Mappe resumed in Peshawar in 1982 by Afghan women who had fled to the border regions of Pakistan; here they continued to produce the Mappe until 1994. However, very few Mappe were made between the years of 1982-85, making the present Mappa relatively unique in its execution date of 1984. Each Mappa took up to four embroiderers approximately one year to make, however, some took two years, or even up to as many as ten. Boetti communicated his visions through a chain of people who then passed on his instructions to the Afghan women who embroidered the works. The production scheme was centred on one singular idea, which was then developed in multiple forms and different versions through the participation of a larger group of collaborators. As such the works became a culmination of chance, cosmopolitanism and cross-cultural collaboration. 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).

The concept for the Mappe came about partly through chance when Boetti came across a set of blank schematic world maps commonly found in school atlases and textbooks. He coloured each country on these maps with the design of its national flag to create Planisfero Politico, 1969, a work on paper that would be the prototype for the Mappe. It was a simple concept that employed one of his favourite artistic strategies, which was to take an existing system and give it visual form, calling attention to the ways in which such systems structure the world. Humanity’s desire to control and place structure upon the world through mapping can be dated right back to the Second-Century with Ptolemy’s world map; which documented the world as it was known to Hellenistic society. Ptolemy’s maps were the first to use longitudinal and latitudinal lines as a way of creating a global coordinate system and thus were the first to base proportions of countries on mathematical calculations. This attempt to place a structured system upon the world is often employed by Boetti throughout his artistic practice due to his consummate belief that the world is characterised by the ancient principles of ordine e disordine (order and disorder).

On top of employing a structured system in their production, Boetti’s Mappe also acted as witnesses to the changing political geography of our planet. The Mappe have become historical artefacts that recorded the individual history of their moment of production by recording the borders and names of some countries, which have since changed. This function was also performed by Ptolemy’s world map, which documents the limited knowledge of the world’s geography during the Second-Century, for example there are only three continents; Europe, Asia and Libya (Africa) and only two large enclosed seas; the Mediterranean and the Indian. The changing of the world over time that Boetti aims to convey through his Mappe is linked to his interest in the philosophies of Heraclitus of Ephesus. Hercalitus is known for his insistence on ever-present change within the universe, stating that “you cannot step twice into the same stream” (Harold N. Fowler, trans., Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 12, London 1921, p. 402). This is a fitting metaphor for Boetti’s Mappe as although each time the production of a work involves the same instruction-based system, each work is ultimately unique and individual according to the time, place and people who were involved in its creation.