Eighteen-year-old Maty Fall is the cover face of Vogue Italia’s Febraury issue. Captured by photographer Paolo Roversi, the cover depicts the model—styled by Ib Kamara—wearing a voluminous Valentino dress and a bantu-knots hairstyle, while holding Italy tight to herself. On the right-hand side, the words ‘Italian Beauty’ stand out. Bellezza Italiana, a powerful statement today in Italy, still a challenging one for many. This is why last Friday, when I saw this image shared by many of my contacts on social media, I went to the newsstand and I bought the new issue: I wanted to see, read and go deeper.
Dedicated to Italian beauty, the editorial features other Italian models of different origins. There is Caterina Ravaglia, from Ravenna; Malika El Maslohui, of Moroccan father and Italian mother; Greta Varlese, Italian-German; Martina Boaretto, from Veneto, and Stella Roversi. In the final pages of the issue, I finally find what I was looking for. A two-page interview accompanied by amazing shots of Maty unveils more about the Senegalese-Italian new-model—and Italian citizen—who recounts, with the spontaneity of those who have just come of age, her daily life. Here I came across the most interesting part.
Maty Fall Diba was born in Senegal on May 1, 2001. She lived in Ouest Foire, just outside Dakar, with her mother and siblings until the age of 9, and then she moved to Chiampo, in the province of Vicenza (northern Italy) to join her father, who has lived in Italy for 27 years. Maty is attending the fourth year of high school, she became an Italian citizen when she turned 18. In May 2019 her mother took her to a modelling agency and a few months later, in September, she was chosen by Pierpaolo Piccioli to close Valentino’s SS20 show and she walked once again for the house during the Couture week in January 2020.
The interview doesn’t mention the struggle linked to getting the Italian citizenship, nor it sheds light on the 841,719 pupils without Italian citizenship attending Italian schools (307.000 of whom were born in Italy). The interviewee and interviewer don’t make any appeal to politics in order to amend Law 91/92, the infamous Italian citizenship law against which many Italians without citizenship, civil society and other activists have protested in recent years. Yet, through her presence, her story and daily life, this—and the italian beauty—are carried out by using a subtle, sharp language.
Identity and sense of belonging—to one or more heritages—are intricate processes that go through different spaces of struggle, not only the inner ones, or those directly or ideally connected to them. The fluid, ever changing and multifaceted nature of identity and belonging makes it natural, organic, to find other forms of support also within those structures of power and class such as the fashion industry, which shapes our life through image every day, producing real changes, both positive and negative. We talked about it at the last edition of Photo Vogue Festival in Milano and also a few weeks ago, in my conversation with the curator of The New Black Vanguard, Antwaun Sargent, on the role of the 15 and more black photographers who are redefining the aesthetic—as well as the cultural and social—vocabulary within the fashion world by placing the black body at the center.
Of course, that’s not enough. We cannot think that a single cover or a fashion editorial and an interview can resolve the issue of representation and inclusion in the media—and others—industries, or produce those social changes that need resolute and concrete responses in term of civil rights, especially if we think that on the same day this historic and important issue of Vogue was released, a black Italian man, was held at a gun point after being attacked with racial slurs by two women. On a bus. In broad daylight.
In Italy there are still many gaps that need to be filled, as well as in the fashion world and in many other environments. But it is important to stay vigilant, create and maintain our spaces, while at the same time welcoming these breaches and try to work with different subjects, to accompany, improve, normalise the present and future course of our society.
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