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Talking Hands

Hands speak volumes, transcending linguistic barriers to convey emotions, stories, and traditions. Though stereotyped as something negative or a form of communication to be ridiculed, Luca Vullo, global ambassador of Italian hand gestures, through his expertise and passion, shines a light on the cultural heritage behind Italy’s first language: hand gestures.


June, 2024

Luca Vullo edutains on Rai1's "Uno Mattina in Famiglia" with Italian gesture interpretations of opera arias.

Luca, do you believe Italian Hand Gestures should be recognized as a UNESCO-protected intangible cultural heritage?

L.V: I’m working very hard for this because Italian hand gestures are very complex and rich with a lot of messages inside. Experts of body language say that we are a Babylon of gestures, that we have a lot of different ways of saying the same things, changing the movements of the hands and the expressions on our face. I mean, we can talk one day only with our hands, only with our body language, no words.

When did the hand gestures come into the picture?

L.V: When I produced a documentary about Sicilian hand gestures called "La Voce del Corpo," it was a way to tell the world about how talented we are in communicating through body language. It is a talent, but it is often seen as a stereotype. It's our cultural heritage, a reflection of the mentality of our nation—and when I started researching this matter, I found a lot of data to back it up.

Let's reclaim authentic communication,

giving a voice to our body, to continue to be human.

When you changed your life and moved from Sicily to London, did you find that body language was an important tool?

L.V: Honestly, I never studied English. French was my language (though I never used it), but when I arrived in the UK at 32, I didn’t know one word in English, only "hello" and "bye-bye." It was very stressful being a professional producer and director with no way of communicating with anyone. I felt like I was in a trap. I had a lot to say but no windows to open to go through. It’s a very horrible feeling.

How did you survive and thrive without the language skills?

L.V: The first two or three months were very challenging, but after that, something clicked in my mind. I said, "It’s true. I don’t speak English very well, but I speak body language very well. I’m the best at it." So I started to put this on top of my communication. Plus, I realized, English people drink a lot to be more Italian, and Italian people drink a lot to speak better English.


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What effect did your documentary have on the English public?

L.V: After the screening, everything started. The National Theatre in London asked me to be the coach of the opera of Pirandello, to coach the actors in Sicilian gestures, and I said, "Really?!" Then the university asked me if I was able to organize a Master Class about Italian gestures, and I said, "Of course," even though I was scared. But the challenge was my power. I converted fear energy into an energy of excitement. I started to do workshops in Liverpool, Manchester, Cambridge. The news started to spread all over the world, and they understood me. From there, I started to go around the world with my theatrical show and my workshops.

What do you think the pull is for people worldwide to want to understand Italian gestures?

L.V: I change their point of view. I remove the stereotype. Italian hand gestures are our cultural patrimony, and I can tell you why and from where, and the history about Italian hand gestures. I can also teach you how to use them to communicate.

Every year, many foreigners come to Italy to invest, to start a new life, but there’s one problem—they can’t speak the language. But you’re saying that you can move to Italy and even not learn the language and still communicate with people? Is it possible to live in Italy only using hand gestures?

L.V:  Of course! 75% of our communication is through the body (in Italy it’s about 90% more or less). That’s why I think it’s important to focus on body language. Learning it is easier than learning the language, and it’s fun. Why not?!

You say artificial intelligence is the new language, but your focus is human communication, can you unpack that?

L.V: I think artificial intelligence is advancing rapidly, and we need to grow on the opposite side because we seem to be going down. I believe there is a communication gap and an emotion gap. That's why I want to spend my life helping people become aware of this, reminding them that we are human. I aim to show them every day, through our work, family, and friendships, in every aspect, how to embrace their humanity. Let's reclaim authentic communication, giving a voice to our bodies, and continue to be truly human.

Credits: photo by Cinzia Capparelli


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