‘Art Can Be as Effective as Surveillance Cameras’: Why an Italian High-Fashion Capital Is Commissioning Artists to Relieve Racial Tensions

artnet News | Naomi Rea

The central Italian city of Prato is famous for its luxury textile industry, producing garments for labels like Gucci and Prada. But in recent years it has gained notoriety for a growing conflict between the city’s native Italians and the Chinese migrant workers who largely manufacture the high-end clothes. To help resolve these tensions, particularly in the culturally isolated industrial neighborhood of Macrolotto Zero, also known as Prato’s Chinatown, the city has come up with a creative solution: art. “The city thinks that social art can be as effective as surveillance cameras,” Simone Mangani, the city’s councilor for culture, told artnet News. Rather than focus on security, “the most important thing to address is the huge cultural divide, the coexistence, and the distrust.”

Prato, which has been known for its textiles since the 12th century, is where the “Made In Italy” label receives its cachet. But the fabric of the industry shifted in the postwar period, amid the mounting pressures of globalization and the influx of Chinese migrants, who, since the 1980s, have transformed the city’s dying luxury textile industry into a hub for fast fashion. Today, Macrolotto Zero is home to around 4,500 Chinese companies that import cheap materials from China to be assembled and sold across Europe. Many of these businesses operate under the radar, supported by laborers working long hours for little pay in Dickensian conditions (at least seven people died in a factory fire in one such business, Teresa Moda, in 2013). Although some migrants have traveled to Italy legally, many others were smuggled into the country by so-called “snakeheads” and the city has become infamous for its gang activity. (Police consider Prato the home of the Chinese-Italian mafia.)…read more

Image: Models for Rainer Ganahl’s fashion show, Please, Teach Me Chinese, Please, Teach Me Italian. Marx a Prato, Gucci a Prato, on June 21 in Prato, Italy, presented by the Luigi Pecci Center for Contemporary Art