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.
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.