For Salvatore Di Gregorio, an Italian photographer, a fashion show is more than just lining up high-heeled models to catwalk the runway. With his ongoing series Project Mirabella: Tales of Beauty, Di Gregorio has decided to give fashion photography a fresh twist of social reportage by creating portraits of Nigerian women refugees using their hairstyles to symbolize their struggles, pride, and beauty.
All of the women in the exhibit arrived in Di Gregorio’s hometown Mirabella Imbaccari, seeking asylum, according to the Guardian. For many years, refugees and migrants have used this Sicilian town as an entry point for crossing into Europe, and Di Gregorio has been there to document their highs and lows.
“I have memories of tragedy happening in the Mediterranean Sea,” Di Gregorio explained. “It has always been part of the Sicilian memory.”
He adds that he was motivated to use the portraits as part of his fashion show in hopes of speaking for thousands of migrants and refugees that are being maltreated in Italy and other countries around the world.
The current refugee crisis in Europe has caused a change in attitude, with many host countries accusing refugees of being involved in crime and straining their resources.
“I am not a politician; I can’t grant them permission to stay, but I can use my photography,” Di Gregorio said.
The celebrated fashion photographer says he is fascinated by the elaborate hairstyles of West Africa and how they are used to express feelings like pain and stress, as well as to accompany rituals and symbolize status.
His main objective of compiling the portraits was to reconnect the women with their African identity and to help them reclaim their original beauty. Di Gregorio believes beauty is an expression of individuality, pride, and dignity.
Photographing these women wasn’t easy for Gregorio since some of them were apprehensive about it and didn’t want their faces to be shown. But after spending a few days with them without the camera, he was able to ease their fears.
He also helped them to source for materials from the local markets including beads, ribbons, hair extensions, and shells. According to Gregorio, the black and white portraits are a true representation of each woman’s capabilities.
With their unique hairstyles, Gregorio hopes to bring out the true potential and character of women refugees who are struggling in camps, waiting for their claims for asylum to be processed.