The map lends itself to the imaginary and the creative process. Each cartographic project is one through which certain perspectives are emphasized, and the world around us is traced through a particular vantage point. Maps, often associated with their usefulness or function, have increasingly become a point of interest for artists as an expressive medium. Their communicative nature grants them the potential of being a site for critical reflection, challenging complicated histories or presumptions, and bringing awareness to diverse narratives. Artists have made use of the techniques and histories of cartography to challenge and reflect upon socio-historic concerns. Here, we have pulled a few from this extensive area to highlight projects of interest and beauty.
Rebecca Solnit's Atlases bring together artists, writers, and cartographers in an exploration of the infinite meaning found in one place. Her work, such as the Monarchs and Queens Map brings beauty and provocation to lived spaces, mapping queer public spaces next to butterfly habitats.
We are inclined to read images in terms of their representational power. The paintings of Vancouver based artist and Governor General's Award winner Landon Mackenzie evoke spatiality reminiscent of mapping through abstraction.
Abstraction has been utilized a commentary on global concerns. Artist Mona Hatoum has engaged with maps throughout her career, working with the process as a challenge to trade and nationality. Having lived her whole life in exile, Hatoum is able to use the choices available to cartographers to critique global systems and territories. Her work Routes engages with the trajectories of flight paths, as they denote international leisure and trade. Hatoum was born to Palestinian parents in Beirut and was consequently denied nationality. Her practice comments on conflicts surrounding borders, dislocation and boundaries. The large installation Present Tense, depicts the territories to be returned to Palestine as per the 1993 Oslo Accord mapped in soap and red beads, materials which carry many metaphorical and cultural associations for Palestinians and Isrealis.
Through mapping and performance, Suzanne Lacy visualized the extent to which women were experiencing sexual assault - both reported and unreported. Her large-scale performance Three Weeks in May documented the daily reports of rape in Los Angeles onto a map of the city into a work that exposed the reality that women faced.
Geographer William Bunge also utilized maps to highlight concerns overlooked within well documented areas in his experimental radical cartography. His work Where Commuters Run Over Black Children on the Pointes-Downtown Track renamed the police report of children pedestrian deaths by vehicle, disrupting the apparent objectivity of maps and exaggerating the ever present social reality that make up our shared spaces. The Atlas of Radical Cartography is a collection of 10 maps and 10 essays of works that "wear their politics on their sleeve", experimenting in ways similar to the ways Dadaists, Surrealists, and Situationists as they appropriated techniques from cartography in their artistic work. The artist/activists of the Atlas make use of art to subvert traditional conceptions of space, using maps to advance social change.
The plurality of ways in which history is understood can be negotiated through map making. In Australia, Indigenous artist Judy Watson has been working with historian Lyndall Ryan on mapping the widespread history of killing Indigenous people in Australia. A much contentious issue, historians are divided on the number of massacres and reliability of historic accounts during British settlement. Known as the "History Wars", the issue has lead to Ryan's research which has concluded that there were more than forty massacres.