Maps, Borders, and Networks

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

Cartography is the art and science of making maps. Humans have been creating maps since ancient times: The earliest map is thought to be a schematic of the night sky found in the caves of Lascaux, France, dating to 16,5000 BCE. While we often consider maps to be objective representations of physical space, they are laden with subjective views of the world. Additionally, maps change over time: Borders and boundaries are constantly in flux, shifting along political lines and in response to changes in international relationships. Many artists have used maps to tell wide-ranging stories about conflict, migration, identity, and social, cultural, or political networks.

To explore more, click on each artwork thumbnail, then click again on the larger image that appears in the box above.

The customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group.

Related Artists: Alighiero Boetti, Juan Downey, Hong Hao, Barrett Lyon, The Opte Project, Grayson Perry, Rirkrit Tiravanija

Questions & Activities

  1. Make a Mental Map

    A mental map is a person’s internalized representation of the world, combining the objective knowledge of the world and an individual’s subjective perspective.

    Draw your city, town, or neighborhood according to you. What places do you visit often? How do you get there? Without looking at a map, draw and label places such as your school, stores you visit, routes you take frequently, your home and the homes of your friends, and other favorite landmarks.

    Compare your map with a partner’s. What kind of information did your partner include, and what does it reveal about him or her? Did you find anything surprising?

  2. Identity Mapping

    Grayson Perry’s Map of an Englishman could be interpreted as a representation of his identity and ideas.

    Create a map of your own identity using colored pencils and paper. Your map should encompass aspects of your outer, physical world as well as your inner, psychological state of mind.

    Before drawing your maps, brainstorm a list of words to include. Consider your ambitions, fears, and character traits as well as geographic places of interest. Then think about how to best visually represent these items, and incorporate this style into your map. What kind of geographic landmarks best represent the different aspects of your identity?

  3. Shifting Borders

    Alighiero Boetti’s Map of the World depicts political borders as they were when he made it. Some countries and borders that exist today did not exist in 1989.

    Identify at least 10 flags on Boetti’s maps. Use the CIA World Factbook or search on the Internet to identify which countries the flags belong to.

    Compare Boetti’s artwork to a map of the world today. What differences do you see between the two maps?

    Pick an area of the map that has changed, and research what has happened in those countries. Has there been conflict in that area? Write your findings in a one- to two-paragraph essay.