Alighiero Boetti Vintage Tapestries at MOMA
Textiles have a long history of bringing cultures, religions, and people together. Artist Alighiero Boetti (1940-1994), currently on exhibit at the MoMA in New York City, makes evident this beautiful truth through his exquisite and provocative tapestries and carpets.
Who was Alighiero Boetti?
Alighiero Boetti was an Italian conceptual artist. He was born on December 16, 1940, in Turin, Italy, and passed away on February 24, 1994, in Rome, Italy. Boetti is best known for his innovative and multidisciplinary approach to art, which incorporated various mediums such as textiles, embroidery, photography, sculpture, and installation.
Boetti’s work often explored themes of time, language, geography, and identity. He was deeply interested in the relationship between order and chaos and sought to challenge traditional notions of authorship and artistic production. Boetti’s artistic practice was characterized by collaboration, and he frequently worked with local artisans in countries like Afghanistan, where he established a production site for his renowned embroidered works.
One of Boetti’s most famous projects is his series of world maps titled “Mappa.” These intricately embroidered maps depict the geopolitical divisions of the world, incorporating colorful threads to represent each country. The “Mappa” series highlights Boetti’s interest in the interconnectedness of the global landscape and the complex nature of political boundaries.
Throughout his career, Boetti’s work was exhibited internationally, and he gained recognition as a prominent figure within the Arte Povera movement—a radical art movement that emerged in Italy during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. His contributions to the art world continue to inspire and influence contemporary artists to this day.
Why is textile artist Alighiero Boetti so iconic?
Alighiero Boetti, an Italian artist known for his textile works, is considered iconic for several reasons:
- Conceptual Art: Boetti was a prominent figure in the conceptual art movement of the 1960s and 1970s. His work goes beyond traditional artistic mediums and challenges conventional notions of art. His use of textiles as a medium was innovative and groundbreaking in the art world.
- Fusion of Art and Craft: Boetti’s work blurs the boundaries between art and craft. By using embroidery and textile techniques, he brought a traditional and often marginalized form of artistry into the contemporary art scene, challenging the hierarchy of artistic media.
- Collaboration and Engagement: Boetti often collaborated with artisans, particularly Afghan women, to create his intricate textile pieces. This collaborative approach not only empowered these artisans but also highlighted the role of labor and cultural exchange in his work.
- Language and Symbols: Boetti was fascinated by language and symbols. Many of his textile works feature letters, numbers, and symbols, often arranged in grids or patterns. These pieces explore the relationship between language, meaning, and visual representation.
- Political and Social Commentary: Boetti’s work often contained political and social commentary. For example, his “Mappa” series featured world maps created by embroidering the names of countries in their respective national colors, reflecting geopolitical changes and conflicts.
- Multifaceted Practice: Boetti’s artistic practice was diverse, encompassing not only textiles but also drawing, sculpture, and other forms of expression. His ability to work across different media and concepts added to his iconic status.
- Influence on Contemporary Art: Boetti’s innovative approach to art and his exploration of themes such as identity, time, and language have had a lasting impact on contemporary art. Many contemporary artists have been inspired by his work and ideas.
- Museum Recognition: Boetti’s work is featured in major museums and galleries around the world, solidifying his status as an iconic figure in the art world. His retrospective exhibitions have drawn significant attention and critical acclaim.
In summary, Alighiero Boetti is considered iconic in the art world for his pioneering use of textiles, his conceptual approach to art, his engagement with language and symbols, and his ability to challenge traditional artistic boundaries. His work continues to be celebrated and studied for its innovative and thought-provoking contributions to contemporary art
The Alighiero Boetti textile art on display at MOMA
Each work is the product of many hands. The MoMA has estimated that over his career Boetti employed approximately 1,000 Afghani women, thus pushing up against the deeply held western concept of the singular, brooding, male artist.
Importantly, his works were designed with empty space to be filled with the words and ideas of the weavers, which ranged from the Sufi poetry of Hafiz to battle cries against the Soviets.
One line in particular is present in each woven work completed in the late 80’s: “Made in Peshawar Pakistan by the Afghan people,” who had been displaced due to war. As such, his works are a complex amalgam of national identity, belief and language.
In this sense, it should not be surprising that Alighiero Boetti signed his work as Alighiero e Boetti (Alighiero and Boetti), signaling a dialectical sense of self, but also of the world, particularly explicit in the embroidered note of the exiled artisans.
Below is the piece “Today the twelfth day of the sixth month of the year nineteen eighty-nine.” The Farsi text (Farsi is the Persian language) is written by an Afghani craftsman and Mujahideen in Pakistan, and is paired with Boetti’s Italian. It is a highly emotive call to battle.
However, it is Boetti’s “Arazzo dei mille fiumi più lunghi del mondo” (Tapestry of the thousand longest rivers of the world) that in many ways exemplifies his life’s interests. As the name suggests, it is an embroidered attempt to categorize the longest rivers of the world.
The MoMA audio tour, available for free through I-Tunes (5), explains that “rivers, in fact, are some of the hardest things to classify. They often cross borders and are multi-national beings, if you will.”
As such, Boetti’s project synthesized many of the ideas he worked to unfurl in earlier pieces, such as “classification and its impossibility, the idea that everything is already present in the world and we just have to point to it and highlight it, and the idea that a river and water, as a flowing element, is the perfect poetic expression of the vaguery of a fixed and an unfixed sign.”
Unfortunately, it is difficult to travel to Afghanistan and few people have the privilege of owning a Boetti tapestry or rug.
To learn more about the life and work of Alighiero Boetti, check out “Alighiero e Boetti” by Mark Godfrey.
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