Mapping the imagination

Maps are simplified schematic diagrams that employ a universal visual language through which we codify and comprehend our world. We all use maps in our daily lives as sources of information about places, routes, networks, and boundaries. They offer us the means of describing and understanding the intangible too: everything from air routes and constellations to states of mind.

Although mapping is a method of gathering, ordering, and recording knowledge, all maps are to some extent the products of imagination. No map is ever the truly objective description of a place that it purports to be. Every map is shaped by political, cultural, and social conditions, and by the personal experience or imaginative projections of its maker. Maps may be enhanced by imaginative embellishments, they can show imaginary places, and artists can adapt map iconography to express their ideas and experiences of place.

Explore a selection of maps from the V&A collections in the slideshow below. Click the link in the image caption to find out more about each object.


Background image: Map Walks Nos. 1 and 2, acrylic paint on printed book page and oil paint tint on photograph, by Tom Phillips, 1972. Museum no. P.11-1977. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London