A map is supposed to provide a definitive representation of the physical and political boundaries of countries, continents, rivers, and oceans. Italian artist Alighiero e Boetti commissioned Afghani artisans to make this embroidered map in 1989. It includes several oddities and some tragic ironies, all of which underscore that nothing is permanent on our earth. Certain countries do not appear on the map because they did not yet exist (Ukraine and Belarus, for example). Some nations, such as Israel, are not represented because the Taliban regime of Afghanistan did not then recognize their existence. Some countries that are represented, such as Zaire and the USSR, have since changed political identities and no longer exist.
Gallery label from Out of Time: A Contemporary View, August 30, 2006—April 9, 2007
For each of his Mappe, Boetti traced a world map onto canvas, colored it according to the national flag of each country, and then gave the canvas to Afghan craftswomen to use as the base for a tapestry. He delivered the first such canvas for production in 1971, on his second trip to Afghanistan. Over the next two decades, more than 150 Mappe of different colors and sizes were created in this way, forming a symbolic portrait of the passage of time and shifting world politics. In 1979, the embroiderers—unfamiliar with the map image—mistakenly filled the oceans in pink, a color they selected because the thread was in plentiful stock. Boetti loved this intrusion of chance into the design and from then on left it to the makers to choose the color for the seas. He was proud of how little he determined the look of these works, but he did make some critical decisions: for example, in the 1980s he switched the map image from the Mercator projection to the Robinson projection, which, in translating the globe to a flat surface, more accurately represents the relative sizes of the world’s landforms. The borders juxtapose Italian phrases written by Boetti, often referring to the date and place of fabrication, and texts in Persian, which Boetti increasingly left to the craftswomen to supply.
Gallery label from Alighiero Boetti: Game Plan, July 1–October 1, 2012
Map of the World is part of a series of map-based works that reflects Boetti's long-term preoccupation with systems and classifications applied to the natural world. Using flags to mark geopolitical boundaries on standard world maps, the artist created a kind of symbolic code that highlights the discrepancies in scale between countries and the oversimplification that results when a heterogeneous population is defined by its government—thereby calling into question global power imbalances and the validity of national identity. In addition, by basing his designs on mass-produced maps and commissioning Afghan embroiderers to execute them, Boetti undermined established notions of authorship and the separation between art and craft. He said, "For these works, I made nothing, selected nothing in the sense that the world is made the way it is and I have not drawn it; the flags are those that exist anyway, I did not draw them; all in all, I have made absolutely nothing."
This work is the last in Boetti's map series, and the only one in which oceans are depicted in black thread, not blue. The top and bottom borders provide details about the makers of the work and the date and place of manufacture. The left and right borders feature excerpts from classical Farsi poems; the left extols the benefits of knowledge and the right promotes the idea of universal humanity.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights since 1980, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, p. 107