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On Exhibit: Map the World


By Andriana Trang '12

Published Jan 1, 2012 12:00 AM


Photo courtesy of the Fowler Museum

With no formal training, Alighiero e Boetti became one of Italy's foremost conceptual/contemporary artists in the late 20th century. He rose to prominence by creating tapestries of the world that illustrated geopolitical realities from 1971 through 1990. Each map is a chronicle of its time: the Soviet Union collapse, German reunification, Eurasian regime changes or Middle East territorial disputes.

Now the spectacular wall-sized works are coming to the Fowler Museum in an exhibition titled Order and Disorder: Alighiero Boetti by Afghan Women. They will be on view from Feb. 26 through July 29.

The maps began with diagrams by Boetti, who also created the logos and symbols for each. He then turned to traditional Afghan embroiderers to produce the tapestries from Magic Marker designs. The embroiderers worked from their Kabul homes until the '79 Soviet invasion, when they moved to a Peshawar refugee camp.

The complex and time-demanding process of embroidery added the third dimension that Boetti valued in the work — the human production process. He viewed the Afghan women as collaborators and let them choose the vibrant colors used in the maps.

Since Islamic law forbade Boetti from visiting the camp because he was male, in 1990 he sent photographer Randi Malkin Steinberger to document the work in progress. "Alighiero valued the organic production for each work. Once they arrived at the refugee camps, the works did not have a time limit. Some took up to five years to complete. [In the finished maps] you can see the variation in thread and style as one woman picked up where another left off," Steinberger explains.

Like the tapestries themselves, Steinberger's trip to Peshawar, originally planned to last 10 days, reflected the geopolitical conflicts on the ground. The night before she arrived, she learned that her visit to the camp would be limited to one day. But even that visit was cut short because of a threat to Westerners in the area. Steinberger, dressed in full Islamic garb, was urgently pulled out of the camp.

She stayed long enough, however, to see that "these women were being paid a fair wage, but the work still seemed meditative to them. Groups of grandmothers and daughters sat together embroidering. It almost seemed like a welcome disruption to the reality of a refugee camp."

Order and Disorder: Alighiero Boetti by Afghan Women. Feb. 26–July 29, 2012. Fowler Museum. Free admission. For more information, visit