Meet the Black Creatives Bringing Change to Italy
Italy is in the midst of a creative rebirth as Black artists, activists, and makers challenge notions of national identity and bring their work into the global conversation. Here, four creators who are making waves at home — and on the international stage.
Blank jokes that his story is that of the typical R&B and Nu-Soul artist: the son of a pastor, he started singing in his small-town church in Le Marche at just five. After a stint touring Italy and throughout Europe as a background vocalist for famed Italian singer Laura Pausini, Blank released his debut EP, Cuor Leggero, in 2017. Blank’s identity as a Black queer Italian informs every aspect of his work. “Even if I don’t want to be, I’m politicized,” he says. “So I might as well speak on these issues.” This fall, in partnership with the National Chamber for Italian Fashion, he released a new song, “Foreplay,” with a video that has an entirely Afro-Italian cast. Blank hopes his new work will showcase the diversity of Italy and Black Italians. “We are here, we’re cool, we’re important and we also have a voice.” Though he lives in Milan, Naples is his favorite city. “They use their historical places for aperitivos, parties, showcases, and exhibitions. It’s so vibrant and alive — not just a museum to look at.” Blank loves Trattoria da Cicciotto Marechiaro, a seaside restaurant with sunset views.
Fashion designer, Rome
The protégé of Giorgio Armani, Jean founded her namesake label in 2011 with designs that nod to her Haitian-Roman heritage and have been worn by celebrities including Beyoncé and Rihanna. Through her Laboratorio delle Nazioni — a business model and sustainable development platform — Jean partners each season with female artisans in a developing country. Past seasons have had Jean teaming up with artisans in Peru, Kenya, and Pakistan, showcasing their work in her collections and bringing economic development to their communities. Recently, through an initiative from art foundation Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Jean teamed up with celebrated Kenyan-born artist Michael Armitage on a sweater celebrating diversity through design — a limited-edition piece that will be sold to raise money for youth arts programming. Despite her frequent travels for work, Jean can’t get enough of her home city. Her favorite restaurant? “La Rosetta, where my friend Massimo prepares a unique dish he invented: cacio e pepe with oysters.”
Founder, AfroItalian Souls, Piedmont
Frustrated by the lack of Black voices in Italian film, television, and pop culture, Bellamy —who prefers to go by her first name only — created AfroItalian Souls, a digital platform focused on global Black culture and the African diaspora in Italy. “We want to change the narrative and own our own stories,” she says. With news and cultural coverage, videos, panels, and workshops, AfroItalian Souls aims to share BIPOC perspectives and bring awareness to the issues Black Italians face. Through this platform — along with her own social media and corporate workshops she leads in Italian workplaces — Bellamy is intent on promoting the excellence of the African diaspora in Italy. Bellamy, who grew up in northern Italy, also hopes to debunk broader cultural stereotypes about her country. “I’m a typical girl from Padania,” Bellamy says of her Northern Italian roots, laughing that she doesn’t quite meet the global expectation of the bombastic Italian. Bellamy spends much of her time in Milan, where she loves to duck into cioccolateria Casa Capitano for coffee and cake. “It’s a super cozy café with a vintage aesthetic,” she says.
Creator, All the Pretty Birds, Milan
Jamaica-born, New York City–raised McPherson moved to Milan more than a decade ago with her Italian fiancé and quickly settled in to the life of the city, taking street-style photographs for Italian Glamour and writing for major Italian fashion magazines before landing the editor-in-chief role at Grazia.it. In the years since, she has focused on her own multicultural fashion and lifestyle website, All the Pretty Birds, and forging partnerships with global brands like Gucci and Zalando that have paved the way for Black content creators. In early 2020, All the Pretty Birds partnered with the National Chamber of Italian Fashion to spotlight digital creatives of color. “With this small gesture, we hope to take the conversation a few steps further by creating visibility and opening grounds for collaboration and dialogue.” When the international spotlight turned to the Black Lives Matter movement in June, McPherson, tired of often finding herself the only Black talent in the room when working with big-name brands, penned a call to action, holding luxury brands accountable for not pursuing work with Black content creators. McPherson’s favorite place in Italy is Porto Venere — a beloved haunt of Lord Byron in Liguria. “Rent a boat and explore the caves and grottoes,” she suggests. “Especially near Palmeria Island. Cala dell'Ammiraglio is so peaceful.”