Related themes

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 Alighiero 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 develop 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 and, in some cases, reflecting the unwillingness of the artisans with which he partnered to recognize the existence of certain nations. By fitting the colors and patterns of each country’s flag within its borders, Boetti visualizes the patterns of territorial ownership and sovereignty around the globe.

Boetti commissioned Afghani women to make his designs into embroidered maps. He acknowledged this collaborative effort in the texts written in Italian and Farsi that border the map. The Farsi texts are excerpts from a classical poem extolling the power of knowledge and the idea of a universal humanity.

“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.”1

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

A series of events, objects, or compositional elements that repeat in a predictable manner.

The craft of decorating fabric or other materials with thread or yarn using a needle.

To request, or the request for, the production of a work of art.

The perceived hue of an object, produced by the manner in which it reflects or emits light into the eye. Also, a substance, such as a dye, pigment, or paint, that imparts a hue.

Projection Reflection
More than national borders changed in Boetti’s maps. 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, which 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 duality, or the pairing of two contrasting elements 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.”2


AUDIO: Curator Christian Rattemeyer discusses the first map in Boetti’s series.

AUDIO: Curator Christian Rattemeyer discusses another map in the series and the development of his collaboration with the Afghani artisans.

AUDIO: Curator Christian Rattemeyer describes how the experiences and politics of both Boetti and his collaborators became a part of the maps.