LONDON (Reuters) - Alighiero Boetti was an Italian artist who put Afghanistan on the map — literally.
One of the highlights of a major new retrospective at Tate Modern in London called “Alighiero Boetti: Game Plan” is a room of large textile maps of the world designed by Boetti but embroidered by weavers in Afghanistan and, later Pakistan.
In the “Mappa”, each country is filled with the design of its national flag, meaning the tapestries reflect geo-political changes as they happened between 1971 and 1994, the year of Boetti’s death.
In a 1983 example, Afghanistan is left blank, reflecting uncertainty over the sovereignty of the country under Soviet occupation.
And in another from 1979, a map was returned from Afghanistan with a pink ocean, reflecting the embroiderers’ lack of familiarity with traditional maps and the fact that they came from a land-locked country.
“Boetti loved this intrusion of chance into the design and from then on left it to the makers to chose which colour to use for the seas,” Tate said in its guide to the show, which runs from February 28-May 27.
Boetti’s interest in Afghanistan was not just remote. He travelled there twice a year between 1971 and 1979, when he was prevented from going any more by the Soviet invasion.
During the 1970s he set up the One Hotel in Kabul with his friend and business partner Gholam Dastaghir as a kind of artistic commune, and after 1979 he shifted the production of the map tapestries to Peshawar in Pakistan where many Afghans sought refuge.
The collaboration between Boetti and his embroiderers reflected his fascination with what it meant to work with people from other cultures.
It also raised questions about authorship and authenticity in art which continue to this day with the likes of Damien Hirst and his spot paintings, which are almost exclusively executed by employees.
The exhibition opens chronologically — going back to 1967 when Boetti announced his first solo exhibition in Turin and to 1969 when he began to call himself “Alighiero and Boetti” to reflect the artist’s dual role as “shaman” and “showman”.
The rest of the exhibition can be viewed in any order, grouping his oeuvre into maps, children’s games, postal works, classification projects, planes, grids and drawings.
His preoccupation with time is exemplified in a 1967 work consisting of a lamp in a box which illuminates for 11 seconds every year, creating a heightened sense of expectation even though few people actually see it work.
Boetti’s final self portrait, and his first work using cast bronze, is an image of the artist holding a hose that sprays water onto his head.
Because the head is heated, the water boils on contact creating a cloud of steam and portraying Boetti as a thinker with so many ideas that he needs to cool himself down.
Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato