Airport, please! Heading to the Tornabuoni Gallery to see Alighiero Boetti’s Thinking About Afghanistan

by leslierankowfinearts


MAPPA, 1971
Alighiero Boetti

In the Spring of 1971 while in search of something distant, Alighiero Boetti discovered Afghanistan. It was the beginning of a relationship that tied the man and his work to the people of Afghan for 23 years until his death in 1994. Boetti maintained these ties during the period of exile following the Soviet invasion of 1979, even welcoming some of his assistants into his own household in Italy. Afghanistan is the scene of the production of many of Boetti’s best-known works including Mappa 1971-1994 ,made by female Afghan embroiderers. His artistic intention, his experience of the country and his intellectual curiosity gave rise to works that act as both cutural and geopolitical seismographs. Boetti’s work bears witness to the socio-politico transformations that affected the Middle East in the 70s and 80s, seeing, ,for example, the embroiderers flee to Peshawar in Pakistan where some of the last tapestries were produced.

Tornabuoni Art
Paris, France

During our recent pandemic, our time of claustrophia, social distancing and limited travel wore heavily on all of those who impulsively booked a flight at will, going to art fairs, to unexplored cities, to see a museum exhibit and coming home, freedom! to escape one’s quotidian life and relationships. The LRFA blog, as a matter of fact, was inspired by the need to travel the world if only in the imagination.


Alighiero Boettti- Thinking about Afghanistan presents a selection of work at the gallery’s 16, avenue Matignon, 7500 in Paris, a converted train station flooded with skylights and architectural elements, continued from October 18 through December 22nd, 2021.

The exhibit presented a selection of works typical of this period, The Lavori Postali (Postal Works) which are iconic tapestries and a series of works on paper conceived in Boetti’s Roman studio when he could not travel to Afghanistan. These include The First Work of the Year While Thinking about Afghanistan – and includes a rich selection of photographs and archival documents owned by the Boetti estate, which provides insight into the context in which Alighiero Boetti worked.

Alighiero Boetti

BIO ALIGHIERO BOETTI Turin 1940- Rome, 1994

Alighiero Boetti – or Alighiero e Boetti as he liked to sign his works from 1971 – was born in Turin, Italy. The son of lawyer Corrado Boetti and violinist Adelina Marchisio, he began his career as a self-taught artist, after having briefly studied Business and Economics at the University of Turin.

In 1967, the Christian Stein gallery in Turin offered Boetti his first solo show, within a context marked by the recent birth of Arte Povera. The young artist was subsequently invited to take part in all group exhibitions around this theme, that paved the way for total freedom of artistic expression, and in shows on Conceptual Art such as ‘When Attitudes become Form’ at the Kunsthalle Basel in 1969.

The latter marked Boetti’s detachment from Arte Povera in favor of conceptual experimentation through duplication, symmetry and multiplication. His works then focused on codes of classification and communication, working with numbers, maps and alphabets, playing with a variety of materials and techniques, reminiscent of ancient Asian craftsmanship.

Boetti’s passion for Afghanistan began in the early 1970s with a few trips that later turned into long stays, and in 1971 Boetti and his wife opened the ‘One Hotel’ in Kabul. During this time Boetti began working on the Mappe (Maps), entrusting the realization of his famous tapestries to Afghan female embroiderers. The colours and shapes of the flags changed according to the world’s geopolitical context at the time of the realisation (1971-1994). Kabul inspired another famous series entitled Frasi messe al quadrato (Squared Sentences). After the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (December 1979 – February 1980), the discontinuation of the production of tapestries led him to work with Afghan refugees in Peshawar, Pakistan (as from 1986).

Lavori Postale
Alighiero Boetti

A great traveller, Boetti spent long periods in different continents. Countries like Ethiopia, Guatemala and Japan inspired him to create his Lavori postali (Postal Works) with local stamps. Evoking the passing of time, these pieces were based on the mathematical mutation of the stamps and on the unpredictable adventure of the world’s postal services.

The revolutionary aspect of Boetti’s work was the creation of a paradigm within which to act for the people involved in the creative process, thus radically questioning the role of the artist and the impact of chance, sequence, repetition and authorship in the creation of a work of art. His work and attitude have strongly influenced the next generation of artists in Italy and around the world.

Traveling to Afghanistan at the beginning of the 1970s, he was introduced to the traditional craft of embroidery, which marked a turning point in the artist’s career. In his consequent Territori Occupati series (1971-92) he commissioned Afghan embroiderers to create a maps of the world, with each country bearing the colors and pattern of its flag. The commission grew into a beautifully crafted, large-scale series of maps produced over a period of twenty years in Kabul, Afghanistan and Peshawar, Pakistan. The land mass of each country is filled in with its flag.

We can now become more selective, targeting fairs and cities in which we intend to stay at least a few days. See you all at Miami Art Basel, in December?