“Invandrare som drottningen” (Immigrant, like the Queen of Sweden) is the title of my next photo exposition, which will take place at the Public Library of Malmö (Sweden), from April 18 until May 6, 2016.
If you live in Scandinavia
Most of the girls portrayed in the this photographic project have their roots in Iran and Iraq, but they are also coming from Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Moldavia, Ecuador, Chile, El Salvador. They all have something in common: they are all Swedish (or actually also Danish).
If you live in Scandinavia, or are familiar with migration fluxes through Europe, the fact that many Swedish girls, today, have their ethnic background in these countries will not surprise you. If it does, take a minute to read my story.
The background for this photography project lays in my personal life: when I moved to Sweden, some years ago, I got in love with a girl. Some time later we got married, and today we are enjoying our happy life here in Scandinavia! What is interesting is that when I travel back to my home country [Italy] people keep asking me: where is your wife from? And I say: she is Swedish. It feels kinda awkward, but they all do stare at me, and come out with things like “she does not look Swedish”, or “I mean, where is she really from?”
“Oh, well, she was born in
Iraq Kurdistan” — and everyone is happy.
So, I started to reason about identity: what are we? Do the place where we are born identify us? Or is it the place where your parents were born? May we “decide” what we are, what is our identity, which group of people we belong to?
Some time ago, some Swedish politician was making a difference between “ethnically Swedes” and “other Swedes”. He was [rightfully] accused of racism. I believe that many people has a very simplified idea of identity in their mind. They still believe in a world where you are born and you grow up and you live always in the same country, speak only one language, and have no doubts about your identity.
[The same people tend to think that gender is really important, so a woman should do certain things, and a man certain others. They also believe that sexuality is defined by nature, and so on. But this would bring us too far away.]
A first layer of my thinking, leading to this project, is to portray Scandinavian girls: as they are today. That is, as they are in this world that is changing toward a better place, where people can choose who they are.
Like Queen Silvia Renate Sommerlath of Sweden, football legend Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Eurovision Song Contest winner Loreen [Lorine] Zineb Nora Talhaoui, every Swedish girl has the right to be so — no question asked.
There is a second layer: exploring the preconceptions about girls with an immigrant background, both from a “Swedish” perspective, and from the point of view of their traditional reference communities, I discovered how both are deeply hurtful.
When I told to my grandmother that my wife [girlfriend, at the time] was born in
Iraq Kurdistan, she thought that I was dating a girl wearing a hijab. On the other hand, I keep meeting people thinking that all Swedish girls go around scantly dressed and are easy to sleep with. I do believe that these are both strong prejudices — and, as all prejudices, they come with discrimination, they carry a certain dose of danger, and they hide the truth. I guess that — if you are a Swedish girl, whatever your background is — you might have some nice stories to tell about these prejudices, too!
We need to be aware of oppression of girls
Yes, the same applies to men. I do believe that this identity struggle is more strong in women, though. In so-called honor cultures, girls carry the burden of preserving a virginal idea of their clan’s identity. Virginal, as their controlled sexuality, but also in the wider sense of preserving a rigid set of tribal conventions. Conventions that do not apply to the world where these girls are developing their lives, but to a far away land they will never see again. Whereas male individuals are allowed to marry outside their community, in the new country where they settled down, girls still need to fight for the same right. And they are often succumbing to their family’s will and violence.
Still, this is not all the story. We need to be aware of the oppression of girls and of their fight to choose their identity, and at the same time we cannot think of all girls with an immigrant background as oppressed and submissive. This photo exposition is my contribution to help you redefine your idea of Scandinavian girls, whatever their background, and also my tribute to those girls who fought and won their battle for independence. These girls broke the identity boundaries established by their background communities.
If we doubt their Swedishness, Danishness, Europeaness [or whatever identity they chose for themselves], we are violating those girls, their dreams and their courage. At the same time, if we keep thinking of Scandinavian girls as blonde bimbos, we are both wrong and naïve.
Once you will recognize these girls’ struggle, you will understand how this photo project is actually a photo gallery of heroes.