TJ Boulting is proud to present in association with Fondazione Alighiero e Boetti, Caterina Boetti and Galleria Seno, an exhibition of the artist’s ‘arazzi’, or embroideries of word squares, produced in Peshawar, Pakistan in the 1980’s. The show is curated with the collaboration also of artist Andrea Marescalchi and Giordano Boetti.
After first coming to prominence with the Arte Povera movement in the 1960s, Boetti spent much time in Afghanistan from 1971 onwards, up until the invasion of the Russians in 1979. He set up ‘Hotel One’, in Kabul, which acted as a base for all his activities whilst he was out there, and it was here that he first started working with embroideries, sending his designs to be produced by Afghan craftspeople. He would let them choose the colours, from a range of about 100, as he felt they had a particular eye for this, and was also interested in the idea of the hand of the producer being incorporated into the final work.
The work in this exhibition is of embroideries of words squares, or ‘arazzi’, which were produced in Peshawar, Pakistan in the 1980s by Afghan refugees who had settled in camps after being forced to flee their native land by the Soviets. Boetti had renewed his relationship with the craftspeople he had been working with the previous decade, and designed work comprised of phrases in Italian that perfectly filled the grid of a square. Boetti enjoyed the harmony and logic of words and phrases fitting exactly, with some of them being well-known phrases such as ‘Il silenzio e d’oro’ (silence is golden), or playing with prefixes to create opposite and intriguing combinations such as the well known ‘Fuso Ma Non Confuso’, which literally means ‘melted but not confused.’
The two ‘grandi’ or large arazzi, in grids of 25 x 25 squares, are from a series produced in various patterns and formations; the top left square of one reads ‘Collo Rotto Braccia Lunghe’ or ‘broken neck long arms,’ which refers enigmatically to an inverted head from a tarot card and long hanging arms, on the right hand side you can see the year spelt out of 1988, another feature of the embroideries to include the date they were made. The embroideries often incorporated Persian text, as the two examples here both do, and which were left to the Afghan people to finish off after Boetti’s Italian words had been inserted. As they were made at the height of anti-Soviet feeling in the 80’s, they were often laments and spoke of missing their homeland, or empowering lines from famous Afghan poets. Like this Boetti, who himself missed Afghanistan, could send financial support their way, whilst also providing some form of long-lasting testimony and voice to their plight.
The arrangement of the small arazzi is in the style ‘ordine e disordine’, or ‘order and disorder’, and has been realised with the assistance of Andrea Marescalchi, who worked with Boetti and here anticipates the pattern he would have followed. The most unusual arazzi in the exhibition, and one of the rarest, is the monochrome blue one, which is from a series of times tables that Boetti designed in various languages. Here it is ‘Ladin’, an old language spoken in the four valleys of the Dolomites region in northern Italy. Unusual also are the two ‘ikat’ multi-coloured yarns, and especially so as these two are some of the last arazzi he produced, where ‘Provvisoriamente’ or ‘provisionally’, shows himself thinking about the ominous fate and state of suspension of his last remaining months. Then finally the beautiful ‘Mistico Romantico’, the very last phrase Boetti designed and produced, following a discussion with Francesco Clemente, and in where Boetti is regarding the description ‘mystic romantic’ as self-portrait.
Alighiero Boetti, known as Alighiero e Boetti, (1940 – 1994) was one of the most important and influential Italian artists of the last century. He was a key member of the Arte Povera group of young Italian artists in the late 1960s which was working in radically new ways using simple materials. Boetti used industrial materials associated with Turin’s booming economy and later made works using postage stamps, biro pens, and magazine covers. His work engaged with the changing geopolitical situation of his time, much of it made on his travels to places such as Ethiopia and Guatemala and most famously Afghanistan. In 2011 began a retrospective solo exhibition of his work which is currently traveling to three major institutions – the Reina Sofia, Madrid (5 October 2011- 5 February 2012), Tate Modern, London (28 February – 27 May 2012) and the Museum of Modern Art, New York (July 1–October 1, 2012).
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