Maps, Borders, and Networks

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

People have been creating maps since ancient times. The earliest map, thought to be a schematic representation of the night sky, was found in the caves of Lascaux, France. It dates to 14,500 BCE.

While we often regard maps as objective representations, they are in fact laden with subjective views of the world. And maps change over time. Borders and boundaries are constantly in flux, shifting with wars and politics and in response to changes in international relations. 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.

A work of art made with a pencil, pen, crayon, charcoal, or other implements, often consisting of lines and marks (noun); the act of producing a picture with pencil, pen, crayon, charcoal, or other implements (verb, gerund).

The visual portrayal of someone or something.

Related Artists: Alighiero Boetti, Juan Downey, Mona Hatoum, 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 objective knowledge of the world and your own, subjective perspective.

    Draw your city, town, or neighborhood from your own perspective. What places do you often visit? How do you get there? Without looking at an official map, draw and label places such as your school, the 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 map. 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 (2004) 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 self and state of mind.

    Before drawing your map, 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 represent these elements on your map. What kind of geographic landmarks represent the different aspects of your identity?

  3. Shifting Borders

    Alighiero Boetti’s Map of the World depicts international borders at the time it was made, in 1989. Some countries and borders that exist today did not exist then.

    Identify at least 10 flags on Boetti’s map. Use Wikipedia or search elsewhere online to identify which countries the flags belong to.

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

    Pick an area of the map that has changed, and research what has happened with those countries. Has there been conflict in that area? Describe your findings in one or two paragraphs.