Nshima. When I ask him to take a picture of the thing that represents his idea of beauty, Gift, a boy of 10, choses to photograph the basic food in Zambia. To put it in simpler terms, it is a kind of maize porridge, which is less tasty and whose color is lighter. You do not quite understand what is in the picture and the final result is a super-macro (an extremely zoomed picture, as if it was taken through a magnifying glass. In it, the color of Nshima is closer to asphalt than food.
Gift’s photo is part of a project titled ‘‘Defend Beauty’’, which was born from the underlying idea that we perceive reality in different ways, depending on the place where we were born, on our life experience, and many other things; considering all this, it is obvious that also the idea of beauty is subjective and depends on different factors.
On 14 august 2015 I departed to Milan together with a dozen of young people for the event ‘‘Campo fuori le mura’’, a summer camp organized by Pope John XXIII for the young. The camp was in Zambia, Ndola. A State considered, on an international level, one of the African countries in where people live better. Newspapers and statistical indices agree with it, showing an exponential growth of per capita income and an increasing number of new jobs, mostly thanks to data on the presence of foreign industries that choose to invest in this country because of its rich raw materials.
The Zambia I saw during my month of permanence there, has many other facets: the generation between 30 and 40 years of age has almost halved due to AIDS and the results are thousands of orphaned children wandering and sniffing glue between the lanes of the compound (slums). It is in this scenario that I brought from Italy ten disposable cameras offering the children at the school of Misundu Project Cicetekelo (run by the NGO Sharing Among Peoples) to “photograph their most beautiful thing” and “drop me a line explaining this choice.” Children have reacted to my request with great enthusiasm and amazement; no one knew how a camera worked and even look into the lens and see the world cut has made them very curious.
In early September, we returned to Italy, I did and I took the time to read, to enter into the lives of these children who have chosen to partake in my strange game and the result has been, in my view, amazing. The photographs and the messages were almost trivial, but they hid a rawness and truth that was able to shake even the most cynical observer. A continuous views reversal, so many dreams and memories of what for us is granted in other parts of the world, is not.
It feels strange to stop and try to find the right words to describe what for me was an intimate journey full of surprises… so, why do we not start from the very beginning? I am 23 and with several journeys behind and desire to add many more of them to the list. I grew up in a family home of the Pope John XXIII Community, run by two very consistent parents who coined the phrase: “There are no A or B series children”, the mantra on which to build the happiness of many people. Now that I grew up, I can somehow apply to my own experience.
I have recently graduated in photography at LABA (Free Academy of Fine Arts) in Rimini, with a thesis that always brings me back to what has been an important month in Zambia in the midst of so many new people.
A month before we left, I got a tattoo on which appears a sea turtle, a hot air balloon and the word “Wanderlust” which describes the desire to travel, new experiences, new places, meet new people and never stop, and with this spirit I confronted my journey to Ndola.
The need to know other people is my answer to the question: “What is your idea of beauty? Your beautiful thing?” It is never a vacation or a parenthesis, I wonder how often some people turn the page after experiences that change your life and, not finding a plausible answer, I dwell on the fact that from this experience I even made my thesis proposal.
If I had to take a photograph to answer this question too, I would have probably chosen two specific moments that keep hunting me even now, months later. The first one takes place in Mary Christine, where there is a large farm run by young people who, having completed their studies, begin to cultivate the land and grow animals.
Here, young people with disabilities find someone who believes in them and is committed to answering the problem of disability, which in Africa is still experienced as a result of the evil eye or of an otherworldly punishment. During our day at Mary Christine, a group cleaned the fields, using the oldest method: fire. Suddenly, the wind changes direction and what seemed a simple low fire to burn the brush, turns into a real fire with flames and smoke that rise high and make their way to the nearby forest. Everyone run in search of water to quell the fire and in complete calm appears, surrounded by a cloud of blue smoke, a young man with a green T-shirt, a hundred meters away from me, turns around and greets me waving his hand and looking straight into my eyes.
The second episode I would have immortalized, was when I met Davies, a 9-year-old child, an orphan, who never run towards us when we arrived to the school in Misundu, he even seemed not to trust us. Davies has an eye that is slightly downwards. He was beaten as a child, he told me about it later, and the eye has not become normal again. Davies was the one who more than anyone I came in and moved me during my stay in Ndola, his behavior so unfriendly proved a feeble defense, I saw him fall when he felt free to play and be with myself. Davies, to the question of my thesis responded photographing the football field goal, commenting on his decision saying that he likes the sport and dreams of becoming a football player and play in Italy. This is, along with many others, one of the simplest and cruder answers a child can give and, considering these reasons as a whole, it is not difficult to notice the common element that all children have: dreaming.