Alighiero Boetti (1940–1994) was one of the leading artists associated with the arte povera movement in Italy and a major figure of international conceptualism from the 1960s through the 1980s. Untitled (1988), a rare example of arte povera, is the first work by the artist to enter the collection of the National Gallery of Art.
Boetti’s most iconic works are the embroideries he began to produce in Afghanistan in 1971 and subsequently in Pakistan after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. He worked with local craftspeople, mostly women, to produce three distinct types of embroideries: Arazzi (word square tapestries), Mappi (maps), and Tutti (representations of “everything”). Untitled is an example of the Arazzi style and is comprised of 25 rows. Each row consists of 25 individual blocks that feature a single letter of either Italian lettering or the Arabic script of Farsi, the spoken language of the work’s embroiderers, who were then living in exile in Peshawar. Evoking Boetti’s deep interest in Afghan culture and his interrogation of artistic identity, the work is a true collaboration between the artist and his gifted collaborators. Boetti determined the format of the embroidery as well as the layout of the letters, which contain messages in Italian and English. The embroiderers selected the color scheme and the four Farsi texts that are stitched in yellow and black, which include their names, the equine game of buzkashi (the national sport of Afghanistan, “land of the horse-riders”), and Afghan Independence Day.