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Maps, Borders, and Networks

Artists use maps to tell stories about themselves and their views of the world.

Map of the World

Alighiero Boetti
(Italian, 1940–1994)

1989. Embroidery on fabric, 46 1/4" x 7' 3 3/4" x 2" (117.5 x 227.7 x 5.1 cm)

This is the last in a series of 150 maps that the Italian-born Boetti made over a period of 20 years during which he traveled, lived, and worked with artisans in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Peshawar, Pakistan. He was interested in investigating how the boundaries between countries form and change over time. Each map in the series is different from the others, representing national boundaries as they existed at the time the map was made. By fitting the colors and patterns of each country’s flag within its borders, Boetti visualizes the patterns of territorial ownership around the globe.

Boetti commissioned Afghani women to make his designs into embroidered maps. Boetti acknowledged his collaborative effort with Afghani weavers in the text bordering the map—in Italian and Farsi, a language spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the region. The Farsi texts are excerpts from a classical poem extolling the power of knowledge and the idea of a universal humanity.

Stein, Lisa, “Exhibit Explores Curious Mind of Alighiero Boetti,” The Chicago Tribune, March 20, 2002
Stein, Lisa, “Exhibit Explores Curious Mind of Alighiero Boetti,” The Chicago Tribune, March 20, 2002

Projection Rejection
In Boetti’s maps, it’s not only national borders that change. In the 1980s he switched the map image from the Mercator projection—which plots the spherical world on a rectangular grid—to the Robinson projection, a map that reduces the distortion of landmasses near the north and south poles.

Name Games
Boetti often added an e—which means “and” in Italian—between his first and last names to indicate his interest in dualities, or aspects of life that pair two contrasting characteristics, like east and west, order and disorder, the individual and society, and local and international relationships. He once said: “It would be nice to be two people—one all aware and real, the other all dreamy and unconscious—who go hand in hand, without ever mingling.”1

Embroidered Beauty

“To my mind, the work of the embroidered maps represents supreme beauty,” Boetti said. “For these works, I made nothing, selected nothing, in the sense that the world is the way it is and I have not drawn it; the flags are those that exist anyway. . . . Once the basic idea is there, the concept, then everything else is chosen.”2


AUDIO: Listen to Christian Rattemayer discuss the first map in the series.

AUDIO: Listen to Christian Rattemayer discuss a 1979 map from the series.

AUDIO: Listen to Christian Rattemayer discuss another maps in the series.