The Female Mapmakers of ‘Other Cartographies’: Online Discoveries in Slow Times.

In this slow, strange time, I’ve had the head space to sit and read, learn and explore subjects that interest me online. Of course, the history of mapmaking has always been a fascination but the hidden army of female mapmakers, both from contemporary and past times is a fresh subject for me. Female mapmakers have appeared throughout history but if you were to do a little research for famous cartographers on Wikipedia, very few names of prominent mapmaking women have been remembered. It was a pleasure then, to discover and be included on the Other Cartographies website – an online document of female map creators across the world and through history.  The curator, Kiara M Firpi Carrion, has compiled the collection from a feminist standpoint. She states that women, historically a less socially powerful group, have always documented their landscape from a particular viewpoint, peculiarly different from that of the more powerful male group in societies across time. Sometimes it’s unconscious, sometimes it’s from a politically engaged position with a message to shout. I’ve found it a deeply interesting adventure, like opening doors into different rooms and meeting a series of fascinating people.  In this post, I write about a few of my favourites…

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Meet the nuns of Ebstorf who it is said, created the largest known map of the world in 1234 in Germany. The nuns were famed for their fine craftsmanship and the map is beautifully illustrated on 30 goat skins sewn together to create a single image measuring 3.6×3.6 metres. Centred on Jerusalem and with the East at the top, the map straddles pagan and biblical history and philosophy alongside an earthy world full of robust animals. They mapped, as a collective, from their own 13th century, cloistered experience.

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Joyce Kozloff. Photo by Morgan R Levy.

Meet Joyce Kozloff, born in the US in 1942. The mid 20th century onwards was a time of change, of questioning the status quo and facing up to the restrictions of the Establishment both socially and politically – her work reflects that. Please click on the link to see the map in the collection. ‘The Spanish Were Here’ ( 1995) is brightly coloured and collage-like. It shows layers of maps of the Caribbean, Cuba, Mexico and the Andes from historical sources. All the maps were originally created by colonisers of some kind and Latino stereotypes from Hispanic style tiles to Carmen Miranda quotes pattern the wide-bordered neatlines. Together they make a strong statement about how maps created by a dominant force can be a powerful show of ownership.  Historical maps, too, can become a definitive understanding of a contemporary landscape (and culture) regardless of whether they tell the entire truth. These works were made by an activist with an opinion she needed to express.Meet Sabine Réthoré, a contemporary French artist who makes maps and globes from a non-traditional standpoint, refusing to use culturally accepted cartographic principals. Please click on the link to see her map ‘The Mediterranean Without Borders’.  It’s interesting, given the migrant crisis which is still happening as we speak. It’s interesting given that Covid-19 has shut down most national borders for the foreseeable. In this map, borders are removed. Travel is free. Perhaps this is a reflection of the European Fantasy or may be it’s an aspiration for the future. Although it was made pre-virus, it still resonates today for many different reasons. The idea of travel seems a long way away.There are so many doors to open in Other Cartographies, although, ironically our physical doors are pretty much locked down. Personally I felt honoured to be included on the site alongside such a group of interesting people. I don’t have time in this post to take you to every room; it’s a rambling house of women that slowly grows month by month. But may be you can go there yourself and be absorbed in some new discoveries. May be you will be inspired to map the edges of your own (possibly small) world from you own personal perspective in this slow strange time. You can be sure that it will be unique to you, to the place and to this one peculiar moment in history.

My own Map of Brighton selected for the collection. One day I will be able to go there again.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. What a fascinating history and so wonderful that you are included

    1. Thanks Kathryn! It’s a really lovely website…

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