Reconciling a Double Identity

A Moroccan-Italian photographer chronicles his upbringing in Northern Italy by Moroccan parents, and the contrasts generated by the two realities inside and around him.

© Karim El Maktafi/Fabrica, from the series, Hayati

How many identities can a person claim as their own? When they're born to foreign parents, when the word “home” sounds different in different languages, when home is a multitude of places? Do we indeed have multiple selves? Through the fragmentation and recomposition of that identity, Moroccan-Italian photographer Karim El Maktafi investigates how the self, in the end, remains one.

In this work Hayati, which won him the PHM 2017 Grant New Generation Prize, the 24-year-old photographer investigates the implications of a multifaceted experience forged by being born and raised in Italy by Moroccan parents who emigrated in the 1980's. “At the base of this work is a subtle balance between these two realities: the Moroccan and Muslim one, and the Italian one in which I grew up,” El Maktafi explains. His work, developing between Italy and Morocco, was first conceived and developed during El Maktafi’s yearlong residency at Fabrica, the communications and photography research center in Treviso, northern Italy.

© Karim El Maktafi/Fabrica, from the series, Hayati

Born in Desenzano del Garda and raised in Padenghe Sul Garda, two small towns on the south shore of Lake Garda, in Northern Italy, El Maktafi formed strong bonds with his friends and community, yet suffered at times from the constraints imposed by his parents, both Moroccan, the two cultures often in opposition.

“Since my childhood, I received a Moroccan and Muslim upbringing, but then, out of the household, you discover and collide with different types of teachings, from your school, your peers’ lifestyle, and at times I had to conceal parts of my ‘Italian adolescent lifestyle’ from my parents because it represented too much of a conflict,” El Maktafi says. An opposition that persists: honoring his parents’ reluctance to be photographed, he found a way to conceal their features by playing with light.

© Karim El Maktafi/Fabrica, from the series, Hayati

But the two realities constantly intertwine: on Eid al-Fitr, the last day of Ramadan, Muslim men kneel on prayer mats in the lake town of Lonato del Garda, where his father goes to pray. The patterns on his mother’s dress, captured as she serves mint tea and bread in their home, rhyme with the prints of the pillows and the tablecloth, evoking a distinctly Moroccan aesthetic transported in their living room in Italy. Caught from behind a dirty car window, a friend is depicted unguarded, an isolated moment embodying the levity of young Italian nights. Similarly, carefree boys kick a ball in one of the streets in Fquih Ben Salah, Morocco, just under El Maktafi’s grandfather's window, where the photographer also used to play.

The two worlds, Italy and Morocco, merge through a 3-day summer trip through France and Spain. Resting along the journey, the bodies of his younger brother and cousin lay motionless in his uncle’s bed in the summer heat of Girona, “a moment of rest,” again that “subtle balance between these two realities.”

© Karim El Maktafi/Fabrica, from the series, Hayati

Hayati is that journey, a “visual diary” narrated through the lens of a smartphone. Hayati means “my life,” but the word also has a double significance, an appellative for loved ones, a homage that El Maktafi offers to his parents, whom, despite their early mutual incomprehensions, he praised for initiating the journey. As per the multiple selves, he has reconciled them “automatically,” he says: “growing up, studying. Not letting negative thoughts sink in. The two things eventually merged. I do value both of them.”

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Hayati will be on view at the Fotoleggendo Festival, in Rome, from 16 June through 15 July. 

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Karim El Maktafi is an Italian-Moroccan photographer. His photographic research explores identity through documentary methods and portraiture. To see more of his work, visit his PHmuseum profile.

Lucia De Stefani is a multimedia reporter focusing on photography, illustration, culture, and everything teens. She lives between New York and Italy. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

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