Posts Tagged ‘Alighiero Boetti’

Alighiero Boetti, the myth of influence, and a contemporary orientalism

November 15, 2012

The recent suite of retrospective exhibitions of the work of Alighiero Boetti at the Museo Reina Sofia, the Tate Modern, and the Museum of Modern Art, plus another at the Fowler Museum at UCLA has triggered substantial catalogues, monographs and other publications, plus reviews and commentary. All of these have, to greater or lesser degree, repeated and elaborated a set of myths in relation to his outsourced embroideries, kilims, and carpets produced in Afghanistan and Pakistan between the years 1972 and 1994. The following abstract summarises an online essay published by the Melbourne University Art History journal EMAJ, in which I pose a counter-argument to the conventional account now established in the Boetti literature.

A tournament of shadows: Alighiero Boetti, the myth of influence, and a contemporary orientalism

This paper examines the evolution of the historical and theoretical literature that has developed about the work of the avant-garde Italian artist Alighiero Boetti produced in Afghanistan from 1971 until 1994. Characterised by a set of interrelated cultural and historical fictions, I propose that this collective narrative has evolved to constitute a contemporary orientalist mythology. This is particularly evident in the literature following his death in 1994, and most recently in anticipation of his retrospective exhibitions in the Museo Reina Sofia, the Tate Modern, and the Museum of Modern Art in 2011–12. Prior to his death, the literature on Boetti primarily took the form of catalogue essays, journal articles and biographies. These drew heavily on a small number of interviews conducted with the artist, plus accounts and memoirs given by his wives, partners, and curatorial collaborators. Since his death, the literature has proliferated, and today a greater emphasis is placed on a growing number of secondary authorities. Recent monographs, catalogue essays, and auction house texts draw heavily on the anecdotal accounts of his agents and facilitators, as well as his familiars, employees and archivists. In exploring what I describe as the mythologies informing the contemporary reception of his work, I examine the claims of his influence over the distinctive indigenous genre of Afghan narrative carpets which were produced both within Afghanistan as well as by diasporic Afghans in Iran and Pakistan in the years following the 1979 Soviet invasion until the present. The attribution of political intent in the later Boettis, whether attributed to the artist or on the part of his agents, is a recent invention worthy of challenge. Finally I argue that such interpretations of his attitudes and practice might be described as a form of late orientalism, a mode of representation occurring through the appropriation of tradition and the projection of cosmopolitan values and avant-garde practices onto this most conflicted and exoticised cultural context of the contemporary era.

You can download the essay by going here:

Nigel Lendon: A tournament of shadows: Alighiero Boetti, the myth of influence, and a contemporary orientalism, EMAJ Issue 6 2011-2012

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the Modernity question

March 2, 2012

Scholars of the history of modernity in Afghanistan will enjoy Adam Curtis’ online research, based in large part on BBC archival material.

From an Italian perspective: a call for an anthropological theory of art

October 17, 2011

Sergio Poggianella writes in response to the post below where do atlas carpets come from?:

“Regarding the opinions of Luca Cerizza, at p.8 of “Le Mappe di Alighiero Boetti” [Mondadori Electa S.p.A. Milano 2009 – first published in English as “Alighiero e Boetti: Mappa” Afterall Books, London, 2008] he affirms that nobody before Boetti thought to show us a world like a mosaic tangled with political formations, a puzzle of color and symbols, a muddle of differences…etc.

Moreover Cerizza knew very well my above mentioned exhibition and catalogue [yet], [evidently a] very ill-mannered person, he published at p. 76 of his controversial “Le Mappe di Alighiero Boetti” a geographical carpet belonging to my collection and for the first time published at p.129 of my catalogue, without mentioning my name [or the] origin of the carpet.

There are at least two reasons to contradict this wrong statement: first, geographical carpets are centuries older than the maps of Boetti. They were done mainly for the mighty, while in Boetti’s time [it is] for the art market; second, you will never see in Boetti maps, ordered from Afghan weavers [embroiderers], such a variety of shapes and forms as you find in the geographical carpet, with or without flags, where colorful nation’s  shape is respected, or where forms become sometimes abstract, like cells, as you can see in my catalogue “Afghanistan Tappeti di Guerra Tappeti del Mondo” 2001, Contemporanea Arti e Culture, from pp. 119 to 133.

It would be also very interesting, from the conceptual point of view, to study the artifacts, signed by Boetti and the artifacts conceived by the afghan weavers, from an anthropological perspective. Traditional art, when invested by aura, can shift into the contemporary art system, as Boetti, in a masterly manner did, deciding to accept the result of the woven maps, even ordered following a model provided by him, without any other change, any other intervention. We all have an idea of what we mean when we refer to an artist: we think about his [her] ability, inventive capability, aesthetic awareness, inspiration, creative gesture, etc. This can be applied in the artistic environment of any culture, including the afghan weavers’ art, as the art of war or geographical carpets, but only if rules and conventions are [recognized] by the contemporary western art system and art market.

The geographical carpets are the creative products of the afghan weavers; artifacts that in different contexts can be considered traditional art (for example in an ethnographic museum, or among ethnic art dealers) or, with the aura acquired in a modern or contemporary art museum or gallery, changing, like a chrysalis into a butterfly, they can become works of art.

In this new context, these objects should belong to contemporary art or to material culture? Should the war and geographical carpet weavers [be regarded as] artisans or artists? It is the power of the diverse cultures, which determines the symbolic, social and economic value of an artifact or of a work of art.

In any case, in my opinion, to get rid of the ideological justifications about craftsmen and artists and the contraposition between the self-referential concept of work of contemporary art and the exoticism of material culture, we need [to establish] an interdisciplinary dialogue between theories, methods and practices referred to aesthetics and to anthropology.”

Editor’s note: an anthropological theory of art might argue that the reason the map of Afghanistan is mirror-reversed in the image above is that it is easier to copy a carpet from the reverse-side. But it also tells us something significant about visual literacy and the makers’ familiarity (or otherwise) of the emblem of the map of Afghanistan.