Alighiero Boetti «Territoires occupés» 1969.
Occupied Territories, 1969
embroidery on canvas
120 x 127 x 8 cm
Burgundy FRAC collection
As Boetti explained, central to the concept of presenting the borders or outlines of a country was the concept of time. «With the Dodici form I started to consider the present in my work. The 'form' were borderlines of the areas occupied by Israel. The newspapers constantly retained the same graphic depiction of these areas; one colour each for Gaza, Jerusalem, the Sinai and the Golan. I had realized that whenever such a form appears on a newspaper title page something important must have happened...What interested me in these drawings was the fact that they were not spawned by my imagination, but prompted by artillery attacks, air raids and diplomatic negotiations.»
embroidery on canvas
113 x 210 cm
«For me, an embroidered Map couldn't be more beautiful. I did nothing for this work, chose nothing myself, in the sense that the world is shaped as it is, I did not draw it; the flags are what they are, I did not design them. In short I created absolutely nothing. When a fundamental idea, the concept, emerges, there is no need to decide on anything else.» ~ Alighiero Boetti.
Mappa del mondo, 1989
embroidery on cloth
140 x 220 cm
Mappa del Mondo, 1978
embroidery on cloth
93 x 133 cm
For a series of coincidences, which already had the mark of Boetti's hand, we came across an unusual series of rugs made in Afghanistan from the collection of Kevin Sudeith. We had already seen war rugs, especially those made during the Soviet occupation but what immediately caught our attention was a group of textiles made during the American invasion depicting maps of the world on backgrounds of brilliant colors, framed by a decoration of flags and English writing. Having already confessed our long time love for the works by Italian artist Alighiero Boetti, to whom we dedicated two shows in 1997 and in 1999, the connection was too obvious.
Boetti had his embroideries and rugs made in Afghanistan in the early 70s and then in Pakistan, where his weavers escaped to. The provenance of these previously unknown rugs, and more importantly the imagery woven in was incredibly close to Boetti's. We knew, of course, because Boetti himself had already mentioned it in 1992, of the existence of rugs sold as "Boetti style", and that with such a name attached to them it was a way of selling rugs in the western hemisphere; we would never have thought that Alighiero's lesson could have been taken so literally. We couldn't imagine the scale that the influence of a single western artist could have on an entire eastern culture. To us, the discovery of these textiles is the demonstration that art has longer perspectives in time and history then any other way of communication and that the peaceful practices and ideas of Alighiero Boetti are still traveling and floating alive in the air and on the ground handed on in the form of a rug.
«An anecdote: in Peshawar there are a million Afghan refugees. Among them, various artisans are making rugs in a new style, with helicopters, containers, western words, etc... An Afghan man who lives in Milan and sells these kind of rugs, speaks about them as belonging to a "Boetti style" that has been imposed in Afghanistan! Therefore, a person from Turin like me, that travels to the center of Asia and arrives to have an influence on a millenary tradition... It's enough of a reason to stop.»
The craft-work and colors undoubtedly possess their fascination and in part may also be the reason why an innovative conceptual artist such as Alighiero Boetti set foot in Kabul for the first time in the spring of 1971. He was a young talented artist who's work had been part of a group of artists, several of whom based in Turin, that a young critic from Genoa, Germano Celant, had begun to call Arte Povera. The city of Turin seemed to be too small for Alighiero and, in addiction, he loved to travel.
«Since my youth I always very much loved traveling. I was fascinated by Taoism, by Buddhism. That probably derives from my family: last year a book about one of my ancestors who lived in the 18th century, Gianbattista Boetti, was republished. He was a monk who traveled extensively in Syria, in the actual Lebanon. On the Caucasus he founded a sort of new religion and put himself at the head of an army of forty thousand soldiers for six years, until Caterina of Russia sent there one of her best generals. He was captured and sent to an island on the Baltic Sea.»
From 1971 until the Soviet occupation in 1979 Alighiero went back and forth and managed to open an hotel, study with a Sufi master and commission embroideries which he "produced in breathtaking quantities, especially compared with the parsimonious rarity with which Western art usually brings its work into the world, they were made up of the same phrase multiplied by the infinite variety afforded by the alternating colors of the different squares. Alighiero Boetti's words travelled enormous distances, from Rome to Peshawar and became the product of incompatible cultures and people. There are more than a thousand of these tapestries all over the world, within reach of a great number of buyers. They were woven by women who had absolutely no idea of the meaning of those words, but who were well aware of the grid of lines crossing at right angles, as it is on the basis of the relationship between the vertical threads of the warp and the horizontal threads of the weft that the kilims, their daily bread, are woven."
About the Maps of the World, Alighiero said in an interview: "I did nothing for this work, chose nothing myself, in the sense that the world is shaped as it is I did not draw it; the flags are what they are I did not design them. In short, I created absolutely nothing". Giambattista Salerno states that "For sure he wasn't the one who had invented the shape of seas and continents, not even their cartographic projection; he certainly had not invented the borders between states, nor the colors and designs of the flags, even less the technique and the symbology of tapestry. So this man made a picture without inventing anything, which is already a folly, and now some descendant or assistant of some weaver who came across Boetti's work is using the same language but what can the result be? Look at it, it is the Map, there is nothing more sumptuous; the most beautiful invention in the world is inventing the world as it is, without inventing anything.