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

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

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.

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