Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Order and Disorder: Alighiero Boetti by Afghan Women

Incontri e contri - Alighiero Boetti

The Fowler Museum of Art at UCLA recently opened Order and Disorder: Alighiero Boetti by Afghan Women. If you are in the Los Angeles area, this show is not to be missed. The exhibition is a side-by-side look at these incredible embroidered works and the equally absorbing story of how they were made. From the museum's website:

Tutto - Alighiero Boetti
From 1971 to 1994, Italian artist Alighiero Boetti (1940–1994) embarked on a series of projects with Afghan embroiderers, creating monumental pieces that would become some of the artist’s most iconic works. Working first in Kabul in the 1970s and then in refugee camps in Pakistan after the 1979 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, Afghan women embroidered works based on Boetti’s templates that include: colorful grids of letters that spell out phrases (such as “Order and Disorder”); Mappe (maps), wall-sized world maps with countries filled-in with the colors and symbols of their flags; and Tutto (everything), large-scale works entirely filled with intricately embroidered shapes representing diverse objects—sunglasses, a Hindu goddess, a protractor, twins, and more. The exhibition features twenty-nine works by Boetti along with documentary photographs of the Afghan embroiderers taken in 1990 at Boetti’s request by Randi Malkin Steinberger, as well as examples of the traditional styles of embroidery that might have played a role in stimulating Boetti's best-known works.

photo : Randi Steinberger from Boetti by Afghan People

Trying to understand the circumstances under which these women worked, how they perceived the work they were doing, and how they influenced the work as collaborators are what I find the most fascinating aspects of Boetti's embroideries. The density of the work is mind-boggling: huge canvases of solidly-worked straight stitches with no exposed fabric. You can actually see where one entire skein of floss is worked until a new one was begun -indicated by the slightly different saturation of the dye in the new skein.

From a press release on Steinberger's book:

Randi Steinberger’s photographs document the previously unseen story behind the making of some of Boetti’s (1940-1994) most iconic and monumental works, consisting of embroidered pieces of many sizes, including the large world maps incorporating the colors and symbols of each country’s flag.

In 1990, Randi Steinberger traveled to Peshawar, Pakistan, with Boetti’s blessing to document the process of the making of his embroideries. Due to Islamic cultural traditions, Boetti himself could not visit the women in their homes, where the embroidery was made. Randi Steinberger, traveling with a Boetti assistant, was given unprecedented access to follow “the journey of these cloths” from the shop of the antique dealers who served as middlemen into the craftswomen’s workrooms as they brought color and life to these spectacular works.

I have been invited by the Fowler Museum to lead two activities in conjunction with this exhibition. One will take place at the end of March (an embroidery workshop - all seats filled), and in April, I will be leading a collaborative art project open to participation from students of UCLA. (More on this as the event approaches.)

Order and Disorder is hanging until July 29, 2012.