Six Contemporary Artists Who Use Maps in Their Work

Guillermo Kuitca
(b. 1961, Buenos Aires, Argentina)

Guillermo Kuitca looks upon maps as metaphors for human relationships. He routinely uses maps of individual and communal spaces as starting points for his paintings. Over the years, Kuitca’s has incorporated maps of all kinds into his work including floor plans for houses, stadiums, apartments, and prisons; seating arrangements of theaters; street plans of cities; and even family trees or genealogical charts into his work. While Kuitca’s paintings have an abstract appearance, they always have a psychological, political, or social reference.

In his series of paintings titled “People on Fire,” Kuitca brings together a community of faceless names together as one might do in a genealogical chart. These are anonymous individuals with no personal significance to Kuitca or to the viewer. We read the names as we might headstones in a cemetery. Names are color-coded by gender: male-orange, female-pink. Some spots are left blank which Kuitca sees as symbolic of the people unknown yet connected to the whole. These blanks may evoke no special feeling in the casual viewer. Yet to anyone aware of modern Argentine history, the missing names stand for the Desparecidos, the thousands of the artist’s countrymen and women who “disappeared” during the reign of terror brought by the military junta that ruled Argentina in the 1970s.

To learn more about Guillermo Kuitca and his work, read the following reviews:

Guillermo Kuitca at Sperone Westwater
by Kristen M. Jones
Artforum, May, 1996, pp. 100-101

An Artist Finds His Place in the World
by Leah Ollman
Los Angeles Times, 11 June 1995, pp. 55-57

Lordy Rodriguez
(b. 1976, Quezon City, Manila, Philippines)

Using mostly pen and ink, Lordy Rodriguez redraws existing maps in order to create imaginary compositions that appear both familiar and strange at the same time. His maps typically consist of misplaced cities and fictional states alongside recognizable landmarks and familiar sites. In reading these images, the viewer must suspend the popular notion of a map as an accurate and factual document (until proven otherwise). In describing his work, Rodriquez says he attempts to "create a map based on a fantasy of the perfect city or where I'd like to go, but can't get there."

Rodriquez’s maps are often about places he’s been, and longs to return to. His family moved to the United States from the Philippines when he was only three years old. They lived in Louisiana, then Texas, and made frequent trips across the country to visit relatives. Rodriquez himself now resides in Brooklyn, New York.

In “State of Quezon,” Rodriguez maps a fantasy Quezon City that he left early in his life but never really knew well. In another project titled “States,” Rodriques set out to remap the entire United States and incorporate five uncharted states of his own creation (consisting of Hollywood, Disney World, Territory State—which includes parts of the Philippines, Samoa, and Puerto Rico—The Internet, and Monopoly) into the familiar outline of the real fifty states.

To learn more about Lordy Rodriquez’s work, read the following review:

States by Lordy Rodriquez
The Clementine Gallery

Kathy Prendergast
(b. 1958, Dublin, Ireland)

As a sculptor and a draftswoman, Kathy Prendergast transforms commonplace items such as maps, bits of clothing, human hair, and household objects in order to draw our attention to issues of identity, political power, and individual experience. In 1992, Prendergast began work on an enormous project called City Drawings in which she set out to draw maps of all the world’s major capital cities in pencil. Each map consists of delicate lines that depict the main thoroughfares and streets of a city as though they were the veins and arteries of a human body. When complete, there will be some 180 drawings in this series.

Prendergast’s “Lost Map” appears at first to be a straightforward map of the United States with the familiar topographical information about mountain ranges, lakes, and state borders. Yet, on closer inspection, this computer-generated map reveals that all the names of places have been removed from the map except for those that begin and end with the word lost (e.g., Lost Creek, Lost Island, and Lost Canyon).

In describing “Lost Map” as well as her plans for an impending project, Prendergast writes: “For the last few years I have been researching place-names with the idea of producing an “Emotional Atlas of the World.” This atlas would show all the places in the world which have names connected with emotions, i.e., Lost Bay, Lonely Island, Hearts Desire, etc., rather than the conventional atlas which shows places of importance. The map Lost in the exhibition is a variation on this theme, showing all the “lost” places in North America. Until quite recently maps and atlases were produced by hand. Within the last few years new atlases have been produced using digital technology. It is the combination of this technology, the place-name information on the Internet and my idea that has made my project possible.”

To learn more about Kathy Prendergast, see: Kathy Prendergast @ the Kerlin Gallery

Alighiero Boetti
(b. 1940, Turin, Italy; d. 1994)

Although Alighiero Boetti had no formal art training, he became one of Italy’s most celebrated contemporary artists. Throughout his artistic career, Boetti focused much of his work on revealing the absurdity of imposing abstract human concepts upon the natural world. This impulse is evident in his best-known series titled "Territori Occupati' (Occupied Territories) which consists of a number of woven world maps. Boetti commissioned these embroidered tapestries from Afghanistan and Pakistan master weavers he befriended during numerous trips to Afghanistan during the 1970s on. Boetti decided on the arrangement for each map–including its symbols, mottos, and text–and then left it up the weavers to decide on the coloration of the map and to finish it.

In “Mappa del Mondo” (Map of the World) 1989, areas of each continent are filled in with national flags where space is allowed. The embroidered border contains phrases in Farsi and letters selected by the artist from the Roman alphabet. For Boetti, the flags represent the arbitrary nature and ultimate fragility of global politics. Countries rise and fall daily and alliances are built and broken. Furthermore, the time and collective effort it took to create the tapestry is meant to signify the will power and harmony required to achieve a common goal, even a fragile one. [ View related work ]

Boeitti once said about the map series, "To my mind, the work of the embroidered maps represents supreme beauty," he said. "For these works, I made nothing, selected nothing, in the sense that the world is the way it is and I have not drawn it; the flags are those that exist anyway . . . Once the basic idea is there, the concept, then everything else is chosen."

Boetti explored the idea of maps from 1971 until his death in 1994. To learn more about Alighiero Boetti and his work, read the following review:

Exhibit Explores the Curious Mind of Alighiero Boetti
by Lisa Stein
Chicago Tribune, 20 March 2002.

Marlene Creates
(b. 1952, Montreal, Canada)

Since the late 1970s, Marlene Creates has focused much of her artistic practice on investigating the relationship between human perception and occupation of land. For Creates, “ . . . land is not an abstract physical location but a place, charged with personal significance, shaping the images we have of ourselves.”

Creates frequently uses a combination of personal interviews, photographs, spoken text, hand-drawn maps, and found objects to document the memories and viewpoints that people impress upon a local landscape. In “Places of Presence,” for example, Creates discovered the connections between ancestral land and her own personal sense of place and identify. The 1989-1991 series is based on the artist’s visits to Newfoundland to explore the practical and emotional history of the land where her grandmother, grandfather, and great grandmother were born. During her time in Newfoundland, Creates interviewed and photographed relatives; had them draw memory maps of the places they grew up in; and then followed these maps to see the places they had described, taking photographs and collecting natural found objects along the way. All of this research led to the final installation of Places of Presence that consisted of three groupings of black and white photographs on a wooden shelf, memory map drawings, text panels, and “natural souvenirs” collected on site.

To learn more about “Places of Presence,” read Marlene Create's description:

Places of Presence: Newfoundland kin and ancestral land, Newfoundland
by Marlene Creates

Joyce Kozloff
(b. 1942, Somerville, New Jersey, U.S.A)

Joyce Kozloff became widely recognized in the 1970's as a leader of the Pattern and Decoration and Feminist movements. Although originally known as a painter, much of Kozloff’s work in the 1980s involved the construction of large mosaic and ceramic tile public art installations for public transportation facilities in cities across the U.S. Her more recent work has included mixed media collages, assemblages, and gallery installations.

Since the 1990s, Kozloff has devoted her attention as an artist to exploring issues of cultural identify through the “mapping” of diverse cultures. Her interest in different cultures and the forces of cultural change has been inspired by the experience and knowledge that she gained through travel to cities all over the world.

Kozloff typically uses maps (actual or imagined) in her work which she combines with various decorative and cultural elements such as motifs, symbols, lettering, quotations, cinematic images, and other visual references that serve her purpose—whether it be revealing the ethnic histories of a city or exposing matters of conquest and control.

In a ceramic tile mural titled “Around the World on the 44th Parallel” installed in Memorial Library on the campus of Minnesota State University (Mankato) in 1995, Kozloff combined design motifs and street maps from twelve cites near the 44th parallel around the globe. Each city is represented on a four by seventeen-foot panel composed of foot-square ceramic tiles that contain various decorative elements and pictorial images that refer to the cultural history of the city.

For example, on the panel representing Changchun, the film capital of China, Kozloff has included raised pagodas to designate the locations of film studios whereas on the panel representing Mankato, Minnesota, decorative patterns are intended recall the beadwork of the woodland and plains Indians who lived in or passed through the area. As characteristic of all of her public art work, Kozloff deliberately incorporated a lot of detail into each panel in order to “. . . give people a lot of things they can discover over time."

In her recent “Knowledge” series (which she began in the summer of 1998), Kozloff created a number of 8 x 10-inch frescoes based on inaccuracies she found in early maps dating back to 150 AD. In extending this series further, Kozloff transformed standard Rand McNally globes by covering them with plaster and then painting frescos onto the surfaces that recall maps from the 10th to the 15th century. Each globe includes pictorial motifs that Medieval and Renaissance cartographers used to embellish their maps as well as various figures and creatures that represent the accepted cosmology of the time.

In one of her latest gallery installations titled Targets (2000), Kozloff created a huge walk-in globe that stands nine feet tall. The interiors walls of the globe are covered with painted military maps that are based on areas around the world that have been targeted by U.S. aerial attacks since World War II.

For more recent work by Kozloff, see BOYS' ART and other works at the DC Moore gallery (2003).

For more information on artists who use mapping, see Uncharted Territory: Subjective Mapping by Artists and Cartographers, a 2004 group exhibition at the Julie Saul Gallery.

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