Cartography and Fine Art: Research for a Commission

I’ve been commissioned to create a map of India that has a slightly “antique” look to it. While my instructions are solely aesthetic, as a conscientious ex-art history student, I cannot proceed before doing the bare minimum research.

Here’s a (basic) definition of cartography to start with:

Cartography (from Greek χάρτης khartēs, “map”; and γράφειν graphein, “write”) is the study and practice of making maps. Combining science, aesthetics, and technique, cartography builds on the premise that reality can be modeled in ways that communicate spatial information effectively.

Here’s (an even more basic) definition of Fine Art:

One definition of fine art is “a visual art considered to have been created primarily for aesthetic and intellectual purposes and judged for its beauty and meaningfulness, specifically, painting, sculpture, drawing, watercolor, graphics, and architecture.”

Although the historical purpose of cartography has been to define and locate places, or rather, to share information about the location of specific places, cartography developed its own “language” & aesthetic serving both political and aesthetic purposes.

When the “Age of Exploration” began in earnest maps became important political tools for European powers. A consensus of territory and property rights was critical in their scramble for both knowledge and economic power. As a tool that defined political power, maps, when presented as artwork conferred an abstract territorial power on their owners that may not be obvious through verbal communication alone.

Examples of "artistic" maps as symbols of Colonial Power
Examples of “artistic” maps as symbols of Colonial Power

For example, in this blog post, Popova describes how the above map, commissioned by the British East India Company, signifies Britain’s role as heir to the Portugese empire from the time of Marco Polo.

From here on, I decided to look at the aesthetics of cartography.  Since, I’ve been commissioned to look at maps of India, I decided to look up “illustrated” maps of India to look for that “antiquated” aesthetic I was asked to emulate.

Map of Hindostan, or British India

I then decided to look at a few modern interpretations of Indian Maps, just to incorporate the viewpoint of contemporary India into an aesthetic referencing antiquity

Topographically accurate map

This next one is particularly beautiful as a piece of art, though I cannot speak to its representative integrity

Beautiful Travel Poster of India

The aim of my project is to combine the precision of the older maps with the color/visual appeal of the map above.



Street Art: Waiting for Climate Change

Global Art Junkie


Climate change – in the news after release of this week’s United Nations report – is a topic of significance for Spanish street artist Isaac Cordal.  One of the best known of his cement sculpture installations is Waiting for Climate Change, created for the Château des Ducs de Bretagne in Nantes, France. 

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I grew up in India, living in various cities from Kolkata to Madras to Mumbai. I remember always taking things like rangoli for granted. It’s interesting how it takes appropriation of your culture to see something ordinary as beautiful

Art & Life Blog


Rangoli is a folk art from India in which patterns are created on the floor in living rooms or courtyards using materials such as colored rice, dry flour, colored sand or flower petals. It is usually made during Diwali, Onam, Pongal and other Indian festivals. They are meant to be sacred welcoming areas for the Hindu deities. The ancient symbols have been passed down through the ages, from each generation to the next, keeping both the art form and the tradition alive. Similar practices are followed in different Indian states: in Tamil Nadu, there is Kolam in Tamil Nadu; Mandana in Rajasthan; Chowkpurna in Northern India; Alpana in West Bengal; Aripana in Bihar; Chowk pujan in Uttar Pradesh; Muggu in Andhra Pradesh and others.
An Indian resident paints a ‘Rangoli’ design in front of her house on the eve of the Hindu festival Makar Sankaranti, in Lankamura village on the…

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Katrin Sigurdardottir: “I just try to give through the making of my work”

Sigurdardottir speaks about the her Venice Biennale exhibition, on architecture and her work with The Art World Demystified by Yale Radio

Katrin Sigurdardottir

 [My work deals with] the look of architecture, without the function of architecture…[It’s] the skin of architecture, but it doesn’t have the skeleton of architecture

The Works of Sigurdardottir helped me contextualize this conversation.

On the Symposium and a potential conversation with an art critic on her latest body of work :

Something that I was thinking about as I finished my piece in Venice Paradox of the ship of Theseus [..] when the ship of Theseus has been taken apart piece by piece […] is it still the same ship that we began with?

On being asked about the role of the participant/viewer in her earlier works:

I am fundamentally interested in the parallel, and sometimes conflicting modes of perception…and how you are immersed in a sculpture and looking at it as a picture, and how [the body] fits into the picture

High Place


The Suitcase with “grass” that set her on her journey


The most important thing for every artist is to make the work in a way that is comfortable and suitable for [them]…It’s an ongoing process

Painting the smell of cheese?

“This is not a blog post.”

Standing Ovation, Seated

I bumped into this mini-installation by Rene Magritte at the surrealist exhibition at Centre Pompidou a few days ago.

I knew Magritte loved to play with meanings and visuals.

I’ve been using Magritte’s “This is not a pipe” for ages to harass friends (and an ocassional foe) with the question, “What is wrong here?” The answer, in the majority of cases, was “the text is wrong”.

This is a fast proof that the visual channel is the boss for most of us.

Thinking about letters and meanings kicks in later, after the brain has already registered and catalogued the image as a “pipe”. So when the rational brain finally catches up, it decides that there’s something wrong with the letters. The rational meaning of the inscription comes to the peace conference well after the perfect image of a pipe has climbed up the stage and set out its own agenda.


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Interview with Steffi Bow as She Flys the Flag for Dubai Street Art and gets ready for Femme Fierce

Yes, Dubai’s street art culture is still in its nascent stage. And while it may never get the same kind of large scale coverage that street art in more established cities does, it may start to show street art as “fine art,” thereby legitimizing it

Inspiring City

Put simply, Dubai is not the sort of place you would expect to see a thriving graffiti writing and street art scene. Yet against the odds this gleaming capital of excess has developed an an outdoor art culture all of it’s own.

Not quite the mean streets of Hackney and Shoreditch, the rules are slightly different, the Emirates is not a society in which any unsanctioned work is encouraged. Whoa betide the tagger who rocks up and scrawls on some of the gleaming metal of the Burj Khalifa or any other building for that matter. Deportation, fines and even prison could await in a state with an advanced use of CCTV.

Yet for Steffi Bow, who moved the city from the East End of London six years ago it just means adapting to the culture of the place “we have created our own way of doing things” she told…

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