Anthony Tang says he is the first Chinese to have arrived in Prato, back in 1978. A physician who specialized in acupuncture, Tang, now retired, spends time teaching Chinese language and calligraphy to Italians. In the project Facewall Prato, consisting of 100 photographs of Italians with foreigners as friends, Tang is photographed with Elisabetta, 75 years old, working on her calligraphy. ‘When I finished high school, I wanted to go to university for oriental languages, but it remained just a dream for me,’ she says.
Facewall is more than just a photo project: it is a participatory social statement. Each of the 100 black-and-white photographs by Ilaria Costanzo has been printed in 100 copies on fabric, which are being distributed free to citizens willing to display the banner on their home or business.
By displaying the photograph, a person ‘goes public, wants to appear and wants to be recognized by others as a citizen on equal terms. Promoting social respect and a feeling of belonging will help to promote legality and an individual’s sense of civic responsibility,’ explain project organizers Compost, a social theatre space, and Pratosfera, a local blog.
Relations between Chinese and Italians living in Prato are the subject of the majority of the photos, about 60 of them. Behind the smiling faces of people sharing experiences, whether professional or personal, are touching stories like that of like Wang, a Chinese entrepreneur, and Maria, who works for him as an accountant; or Vanna, an elementary school teacher who took in Alessia (Chen Zhe) when the little girl from Wenzhou had family problems (Alessia is now 20 years old, the adoption process is complete and the family is, too).
Facewall is also about integration and friendship in general, showing people connecting over common interests, like two athletes in their early twenties: Monique, from the Congo, and Silvia, from Prato; or Michael, born in Italy to Chinese parents, who enjoys playing soccer with Hamza, from Morocco.
The project will run until April 14, 2014, at which time the organizers plan to hold a photography exhibit, but already the positive reaction from Prato’s residents has attracted the attention of the local and national press: the city’s streets are already becoming ‘face walls’ as the speaking photos are proudly displayed by many.