Alighiero Boetti’s beautiful Maps of the World

Alighiero Boetti - Mapa del mundo (Map of the World), 1971-72, embroidery
Alighiero BoettiMapa del mundo (Map of the World), 1971-72, embroidery

The story behind Boetti’s Maps of the World

In 1971 upon his departure from Italy and his arrival in Afghanistan, Alighiero Boetti began a continuous collaboration with local weavers to produce embroidered tapestries, using himself only as the referential artist but considering the works a creation of a combined effort. Mappa del Mundo is a colorful, beautifully crafted tapestry showing each country emblazoned with its own flag, examining borders, frontiers, nationalism, and patriotism. The borders are emblazoned with Italian and Persian texts, selected by Boetti and the craftswomen.

Weavers producing Mapa del mundo (Map of the World) for Alighiero Boetti, photo by Randi Malkin Steinberger
Afghan weavers producing Mapa del mundo (Map of the World) for Alighiero Boetti
Photo by Randi Malkin Steinberger/randimalkinsteinberger.com

More than 150 maps created between 1971 to 1994

Over the next two decades, from 1971 to 1994, more than 150 maps of different colors and sizes were created in this way. From this, geopolitical changes were tracked throughout the world, transforming a simple idea into a political vision by visualizing territory disputes and regime changes. Halfway through their endeavor, the embroiderers selected a pink thread to fill in the oceans, completely altering the look of the works. Boetti loved the intrusion of chance into the artistry of the craftsmen, and let them select the thread colors from then on. Because of this, he has little say in the appearance of the maps.

Installation view of the exhibition Alighiero Boetti- Game Plan, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, July 1–October 1, 2012
Installation view of the exhibition Alighiero BoettiGame Plan, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, July 1–October 1, 2012
Photo: John Wronn/moma.org

A turninng point in Boetti’s career

Alighiero e Boetti was born in Turin, Italy in 1940. Although not formally trained in art, Boetti was preoccupied with the theory of creativity from an early age. Traveling to Afghanistan at the beginning of the 1970s, he was introduced to the traditional craft of embroidery, which marked a turning point in the artist’s career. His fundamental concern with the relationship between order and disorder is manifest in his grid structures, derived from the magical squares, that feature sayings and aphorisms that stem from cultural, philosophical, mathematical and linguistic contexts.

First exhibited in 1972

Boetti showed one of his two first embroidery pieces at the section titled Individual Mythologies of the 1972 Kassel documenta 51, curated by Harald Szeemann, the godfather of curating.

Did Boetti inspire Afghan weavers to create the genre of war rugs?

In the early 1990s, more and more carpets showing world maps in combination with military symbols emerged from Afghanistan and Pakistan. While some researchers credit Boetti with inspiring these works, others don’t agree.

Notable exhibitions

He had exhibitions throughout Italy and the United States until his premature death in 1994. Boetti has been honored posthumously with several large-scale exhibitions, most notably at the Museum für Moderne Kunst in Vienna in 1997 and the Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt am Main in 1998.

Maps of the World – 1970s

Alighiero e BoettiMappa, 1971-72, embroidery on linen, 200 x 360cm
Alighiero BoettiMapa del mundo (Map of the World), 1971-72, embroidery on linen, 200 x 360cm

Alighiero Boetti - Mapa del mundo (Map of the World), 1979, 86x139cm
Alighiero BoettiMapa del mundo (Map of the World), 1979, embroidery, 86 x 139cm

Alighiero Boetti - Mapa del mundo (Map of the World), 1979, 93x131cm
Alighiero BoettiMapa del mundo (Map of the World), 1979, embroidery, 93 x 131cm

Alighiero Boetti - Mapa del mundo (Map of the World), 1979-85, embroidery, 103 x 155cm
Alighiero BoettiMapa del mundo (Map of the World), 1979-85, embroidery, 103 x 155cm

Alighiero Boetti – Mapa del mundo (Map of the World)
Alighiero BoettiMapa del mundo (Map of the World), 1979, embroidery, 121.8 x 186.8cm

Maps of the World – 1980s

Alighiero Boetti - Mapa del mundo (Map of the World), 1983, 116 x 178 cm
Alighiero BoettiMapa del mundo (Map of the World), 1983, 116 x 178 cm Sammlung, Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst
Photo: Peter Schälchli, Zürich © 2015 ProLitteris, Zürich Bildquelle- Kunsthaus Zürich

Alighiero Boetti - Mapa del mundo (Map of the World), 1984
Alighiero BoettiMapa del mundo (Map of the World), 1984, embroidery

Alighiero e Boetti - Mappa del Mundo, 1984, embroidered tapestry, 112.00 x 176.00 cm
Alighiero BoettiMapa del mundo (Map of the World), 1984, embroidery tapestry, 112x176cm

Alighiero Boetti - Mapa del mundo (Map of the World), 1988, embroidery
Alighiero BoettiMapa del mundo (Map of the World), 1988, embroidery

Alighiero Boetti - Mapa del mundo (Map of the World), 1989, embroidery
Alighiero BoettiMapa del mundo (Map of the World), 1989, embroidery

Alighiero Boetti - Mapa del mundo (Map of the World), 1990, embroidery on fabric, 118.1 x 229.3 cm
Alighiero BoettiMapa del mundo (Map of the World), 1989, embroidery on fabric, 118 x 229cm

Alighiero Boetti – Mapa del mundo (Map of the World), 1989, 114 x 176 cm (44.9 × 69.3 in)
Alighiero BoettiMapa del mundo (Map of the World), 1989, embroidery on fabric, 114 x 176 cm (44.9 × 69.3 in)

Alighiero Boetti - Mapa del mundo (Map of the World), 1989-94, embroidery
Alighiero BoettiMapa del mundo (Map of the World), 1989-94, embroidery

Alighiero Boetti - Mapa del mundo (Map of the World), embroidery
Alighiero BoettiMapa del mundo (Map of the World), embroidery

Alighiero Boetti - Mapa del mundo (Map of the World), embroidery
Alighiero BoettiMapa del mundo (Map of the World), embroidery

Alighiero e Boetti - Mappa del Mundo, embroidery
Alighiero BoettiMapa del mundo (Map of the World), embroidery

Alighiero Boetti – Mapa del mundo (Map of the World), 1983, 115.5 x 178.5cm
Alighiero Boetti – Mapa del mundo (Map of the World), 1983, 115.5 x 178.5cm

Alighiero Boetti – Mapa del mundo (Map of the World), 1984, 116.5 x 179.3cm
Alighiero Boetti – Mapa del mundo (Map of the World), 1984, 116.5 x 179.3cm

Alighiero Boetti – Mappa del mondo - L'insensata corsa della vita (Map of the World - The nonsensical course of Life), 1988, 115 x 220cm
Alighiero Boetti – Mappa del mondo – L’insensata corsa della vita (Map of the World – The nonsensical course of Life), 1988, 115 x 220cm

Maps of the World – 1990s

Alighiero Boetti – Mapa del mundo (Map of the World), 1991-1994, 116 x 222cm
Alighiero Boetti – Mapa del mundo (Map of the World), 1991-1994, 116 x 222cm

Photos: Afghan weavers produce ‘Mapa del mundo’

Weavers producing Mapa del mundo (Map of the World) for Alighiero Boetti, photo by Randi Malkin Steinberger
Afghans with Mapa del mundo (Map of the World) bye Alighiero Boetti
Photo: Randi Malkin Steinberger/randimalkinsteinberger.com

Weavers producing Mapa del mundo (Map of the World) for Alighiero Boetti, photo by Randi Malkin Steinberger
Afghan weavers producing Mapa del mundo (Map of the World) for Alighiero Boetti
Photo: Randi Malkin Steinberger/randimalkinsteinberger.com

Weavers producing Mapa del mundo (Map of the World) for Alighiero Boetti, photo by Randi Malkin Steinberger
Afghan weavers producing Mapa del mundo (Map of the World) for Alighiero Boetti
Photo: Randi Malkin Steinberger/randimalkinsteinberger.com

Weavers producing Mapa del mundo (Map of the World) for Alighiero Boetti, photo by Randi Malkin Steinberger
Afghan weavers producing Mapa del mundo (Map of the World) for Alighiero Boetti
Photo: Randi Malkin Steinberger/randimalkinsteinberger.com

Weavers producing Mapa del mundo (Map of the World) for Alighiero Boetti, photo by Randi Malkin Steinberger
Afghan weavers producing Mapa del mundo (Map of the World) for Alighiero Boetti
Photo: Randi Malkin Steinberger/randimalkinsteinberger.com

Weavers producing Mapa del mundo (Map of the World) for Alighiero Boetti, photo by Randi Malkin Steinberger
Afghan weavers producing Mapa del mundo (Map of the World) for Alighiero Boetti
Photo: Randi Malkin Steinberger/randimalkinsteinberger.com

Weavers producing Mapa del mundo (Map of the World) for Alighiero Boetti, photo by Randi Malkin Steinberger
Afghan weavers producing Mapa del mundo (Map of the World) for Alighiero Boetti
Photo: Randi Malkin Steinberger/randimalkinsteinberger.com

Weavers producing Mapa del mundo (Map of the World) for Alighiero Boetti, photo by Randi Malkin Steinberger
Afghan weavers producing Mapa del mundo (Map of the World) for Alighiero Boetti
Photo: Randi Malkin Steinberger/randimalkinsteinberger.com

Boetti by Afghan People, photographs by Randi Malkin Steinberger
Boetti by Afghan People. Photographs by Randi Malkin Steinberger/randimalkinsteinberger.com

Photo by Randi Malkin Steinberger
Photo: Randi Malkin Steinberger/randimalkinsteinberger.com

All images by Fondazione Alighiero e Boetti, Roma /archivioalighieroboetti.it unless otherwise noted.

Video: Boetti’s trip to Afghanistan in 1974

4min 19sec

Related works

Related readings

  1. https://www.documenta.de/en/retrospective/documenta_5
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