New Weisman exhibit spotlights historic maps, contemporary art

by Jessica Kimpel

Whether it is guiding a cross-country road trip or hanging decoratively on a wall, a map is more than just directions.
A new Weisman exhibit, “World Views: Maps and Art,” showcases historical maps and contemporary art, exploring the political issues and cultural values of cartography.
The exhibit, which opened earlier this month, is a collaboration between the Weisman Art Museum, the Bell Museum of Natural History and the art history department. It will continue through Jan. 2, 2000.
“Maps play into our lives significantly every day,” said Karen Casanova, Weisman program director.
Besides providing information, maps illustrate alternate world views.
“Different perspectives are shown in different maps,” said Kristin Sullwold, a College of Liberal Arts junior who attended the exhibit. “The older artifacts are interesting because you can see several perceptions of the world dating back to the 1500s.”
When maps were first made, they were meant to be political documents, said Rob Silberman, an associate art history professor and the exhibit’s guest curator. But over the years, map-making has become contentious.
How to best represent the three-dimensional earth on a two-dimensional surface has been disputed by cartographers for many years.
“A past map-maker practice was to make Africa smaller and Europe larger,” Silberman said. “Countries tend to place themselves at the center of the universe.”
But a modern-day effort is underway to make maps represent all countries more fairly.
The historical and modern maps in the exhibit exemplify changing geopolitical situations, Casanova said.
The exhibit also depicts maps as art.
“Art and maps have a complex, rich and interesting relationship with one another,” Silberman said.
Using maps as inspiration, artists have found new ways to represent the earth — from satellite images to an interactive video game.
“These works contain symbolism on their own level,” Sullwold said.
“People are familiar with the pragmatic use of maps … but in reality they are much more subjective,” Casanova said.