Stories of immigrants and their identity conflicts

The purpose of this thesis is to investigate the suspended identity of the last two generations of immigrants in today’s Milan, through the design of artifacts that reflect the process of cultural methyssàge and that tell the story of the intimate hybrid nature of the city. These artifacts represent and embody the double and ambivalent relationship that exists in the experience of the three main macro-ethnics of Milan (Chinese, Philippines and North Africa) and represent an ideal, the cultural mixing, which we must promote.

The 2nd generation immigrants

The dual nature of these individuals, intrinsically coming from distant places, but concretely forming part of our social fabric, have lived for years this relationship, sometimes conflictual, between origin and actuality, forced to confront two cultural nuclei, often at the opposite ends of the spectrum. The most interesting aspect of these suspended identities lies in the middle, in that focal point where they succeed in synthesizing the criteria of past and present in a hybrid and new product that perhaps reflects today the true concept of contemporaneity.So, if all workers, even those in the black economy, will stop working, tomorrow our economy would collapse and we would be forced to ask immigrants to return to work because we will never be willing to work in their own conditions.

The 2nd generation immigrants

Finding analytical and organic data on the presence of foreigners in Milan, but also in Italy, before the ’80s is a very difficult task. Until that date, the phenomenon of migration was not the object of particular attention in our country except with reference to Italians abroad. Perhaps for this reason, in general, we approach the phenomenon of immigration (…) as a contingent and emergency phenomenon, while it should be considered more and more as a structural and systemic element in our social and economic dynamics.

I conducted my research on multiple layers in order to achieve a greater knowledge of this subject. This thank’s to an archive of articles, documentaries, movies, books and notes that I’ve been keeping during all the phases of the project.

Translate an ethnicity in a totemic object 

For the ethnic groups I have chosen, it is not necessary to think that there is a cultural substratum which makes them predisposed to be cooks or domestic helpers, but rather than in the years, due to the displacement of the masses, voids have been created pushed by certain commercial sectors to be filled by the ethnic categories. This way of integrating people into society therefore leads to easier management and control of the activities of that particular ethnic group.

Translate an ethnicity in a totemic object 

In studying what contemporary design has produced, I have come across the enormous variety of ways in which a theme such as cultural diversity can be approached from a design perspective. The ability of some designers to tell in a new but faithful way the result and the consequences of the relationship between ancient and modern production methods is striking. Talking about diversity can therefore be done by deliberately staging a contrast, by reinterpreting ancient customs, by refining artisan languages or by re-interpreting in a more conceptual way the link that exists between the different elements of the equation.

The process of developing this project has put a strain on my ability not only to design, but also to manage the workflow that I have had to deal with. In the space of six months I worked with at least 6 craftsmen who helped me in the development of the three products, trying from time to time to combine the delivery of the pieces with the prototyping of the subsequent phases.On the other hand, arriving at the final design of three products required lengthy reflections and many designs in order to achieve an aesthetically satisfying and conceptually optimal result. I’m not sure I’ve been able to tell this reality in the best possible way but I’m sure that the experience I’ve had along this path is the thing that has the greatest value within this process.

A reinvented Chinese tea break

The Amalgama teapot comes from the encounter of two different worlds, whose comparison can be represented with different meanings. Two materials such as ceramics and plastic fit into each other, referring to the archetypal figue of the sinuous and curved Ming vase. In a relationship between the new and the old, the forms of tradition are reinterpreted in an object that combines the innovative spirit of contemporary Milan with the indigenous baggage of the Chinese community, closely linked to their traditions.

Empowering the Filipino broom

The Amalgama broom embodies well the concept of cultural hybridization as it represents the evolution of a humble object through its material and conceptual reinterpretation. In fact, if on the one hand the combination of wood, plastic and leather is an attempt to arrive at a product more designed than traditional brooms, the use of coconut fiber is not accidental. In fact, this material, which comes directly from the Philippines, is used by local artisans to create simple but at the same time very robust brooms. The broom then tells the story of both the ethnic matrix of departure, and the work function of the maid who uses that tool daily.

Renewing the Egyptian tradition of bread making

The oil cruet Amalgama tells how Egyptian workers in Milan have in many cases exploited their Mediterranean matrix to be able to understand and interpret the Italian culinary scene becoming in fact co-owners. The oil cruet is a symbol of Italy and tradition, but it is also a familiar artifact in North African culture that for centuries has produced magnificent metalworked objects. The inspiration, that of the metal hoods worked by the skilled hands of Maghreb craftsmen, is condensed into an object that chooses brass as the preferred material to tell the opulence of Middle Eastern firs. The myth of gold and enchantment merge to communicate how cultural syncretism is once again a clash/arm between the world that an immigrant leaves and what he then actually finds, often having to adapt to what happens in the path.

Branding the Amalgama values

Working on the identity of this project has been significant. Having in fact begun to reflect at the origin of this book on the notion of identity understood as the relationship between oneself and the other, finding a way to represent what has been developed so far has required more than one attempt. Giving a name to something is tantamount to making it live in concrete terms, snatching it from the world of suppositions. Giving an identity to something therefore implies a path of great awareness of one’s own work and in this case requires an ability to grasp with a transversal gaze a common trait that underlies realities that are very different in themselves. Following this introduction the motivations and the path that led me to identify Amalgama as it is today.

The name Amalgama was born as a reflection on the idea of a multicultural Milan, varied and multiform in which its parts are not always able to make up a homogeneous whole, but rather clash with each other leaving on the city itself a sign of its passage. In this sense, in fact, if we assume that the integration process is fragmentary and bankrupt, Milan represents an incomplete merger and an amalgam where the individual parts that make up the whole remain basically independent while giving part of themselves to the system.

The idea of the vortex was born when it was natural for me to compare Milan to a large cauldron. The city therefore, just like a deep pot, swallows its inhabitants who, just like the different ingredients of a soup need time and dynamic action to blend well with each other.

Design as a political statement

This project is to be considered for duration and complexity the most intense work on which I have worked till now. Not only did it require a fair amount of design effort, but it also required a high level of planning and management of working time and material to be collected as it progressed. Amalgama is one of those projects whose true value lies more in the process than in the result and that is why I felt it was important to show some images that show the path that led me to develop my thesis project for the three-year degree.

Thanks to all the people who helped me get it done.

Project infos

Year: December 2017
Project duration: 6 months
Client: NABA
Project supervisor: Claudio Larcher
Artisans: Michele Puzzo (ceramist), Agostino Strada (turner), Zaccaria Masrour (blacksmith), Antonio Frigulietti (leather goods dealer), Tiziano Codina (bookbinder)
 Leonardo Canzi
My role: research & analysis / design concept & development / Branding