In Milan for three days we reflect on diversity. It is the goal of the association DiverCity, which with the homonymous festival from Base Milan invites us to rethink the surrounding themes that affect the possible variations of the human.
What makes us different from others? Our history, skin color, origin, disability, sexual choices. But above all the eyes of others, the projects of others, of those who consider themselves normal.
Andi Nganso and Paolo Maurizio Talenti, founders of DiverCity, repeat it several times. It is not a question of racism, nor of lack of good will. It is a question of looks and projects.
"Last year during the 2021 design week we began to think about the design of the space, with a first participation from Base Milano. And we continued to do so again this year, both at Base and at Satellite, in a design exercise that is a first step of the Festival DiverCity.
We asked ourselves how fragile subjects navigate urban space. We realized that fragility lies in the absence of design and vision. And this is what makes healthy carriers of diversity vulnerable", explains Paolo Maurizio Talenti.
"The lack of actions on the part of the institutions creates discrimination. We cannot think that the problems are obviously only planning: design alone does not change things. It is obviously a political problem".
What does diversity mean?
Andi Nganso, doctor, has a long experience in welcoming migrants: "Diversity is a subtle issue, which we try to address starting from the construction of an individual identity. And of healing. of generational trauma.
Because those who come here from afar, perhaps with a different skin color and certainly with a different story, find enormous difficulties.
Institutions are racist, in the sense of non-inclusive. Those who navigate this new space measure themselves with a narrative and a project that does not take into account multiplicity, but of an average made up of whites, heterosexuals, able-bodied. However, the percentage of people who do not meet these characteristics, although smaller, is increasing. Pretending it doesn't exist is an act of design failure".
How do you design with an inclusive space?
Paolo Maurizio Talenti: "The Danish designer of African origin Edem Agbodan, with whom we worked on the installation for the last Design Week 2022, made an interesting reflection: there is a lot of design in the practice of migration. Not only in reinventing space, but in reinventing lives. The perception of the other is a key element.
He calls the imaginative capacity, because it forces us to think of someone who actually exists, but is not imagined. He's not white, he's not straight, he's not cisgender. So how do I understand what it needs? The space must be thought together with those who live it: it is a democratic process.
It is necessary to understand how much demographic change brings back within such a rigid context with respect to the occupation of public space, services, collective places.
What can design really do for someone who is different?
Andi Nganso: "I have seen first reception centers of all kinds, from north to south. And they all have a common problem: the lack of beauty and of attention towards the human. Beauty is part of care. It allows you to rest, to contemplate, to regenerate. To start over. And this is what people who have struggled a lot need to land in a safe place, whether it is a physical place or a place of the soul.
The project must also work on social reactivation and the recovery of people in a state of vulnerability. Dignity is the real theme. The second step is to know thoroughly, to change the narrative. The example of the stations is clear: they are places described as dangerous, because they are populated by foreigners who stop by.
Stopping is perceived as a threatening activity. Exactly the opposite of what happens in my country of origin: Cameroon. Public space is a place where you live, stay, do things. The opposite would be dangerous".
Is there a strength in the fragility of being different?
"It is the power of awareness, of asking questions and seeking answers. When dignity is questioned, the value of life threatened, fundamental questions are asked. And it is given the right place in one's own everyday life.
I believe that experiencing diversity is a resource especially from this point of view. And then there is the good in the different, of course. The prevailing narrative says that Africa is fragile, for example. The different is vulnerable.
A story that everyone hears, whites like blacks, normal people as well as different. But it's just a story: it is enough to change looks and words to realize that we can always learn from anyone, especially from those who are different".