Mapping the Territory: A Youth Perspective on Identity

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Identity, individuality, belonging: These are some of the universal themes of art. And youth bring a particular perspective to these themes that we should always be listening to … like the canary in the coal mine. Their perspectives are harbingers of things to come.

This post is a  bit of a change from my usual heritage-and-public-space posts.  But I want to highlight two projects that interest me because they fuse together traditional ideas of heritage and space creating a unique perspective on the concept of identity.  And they are both projects coming from very young people. So I’ll use the next two posts to highlight each of the projects.

Last weekend I spoke to Ashley Watson, Curator, and Farah Yusuf, Curator-in-Residence for Humber Galleries. We were at North Space, the gallery at Humber College North Campus which was featuring Mapping the Territory.  This is an exhibition developed by Grade 9 Rexdale students from the Pathways to Education programme and mentored by the Department of Unusual Certainties.  The idea was to explore how the virtual space we inhabit relates to the physical, social and economic reality of a community.

Farah and Ashley said they were inspired to create the project by the Myseum Intersections program which invites small galleries and museums to explore the story of Toronto in unique ways.

Students responded to the challenge by creating unique personas based on a variety of themes such as sports, politics, and religion food.

A graphic wheel was developed mapping the attributes of the identities and this wheel is projected onto the wall as part of the exhibit.   The students invented life stories complete with imagined lives, places, fashion, relationships, language and style. The students then brought these fictional identities to life via Facebook posts. One student developed a slang style of speaking to match the persona.


Ashley and Yusuf are effusive about the process and the student insights. None of the students had ever been to a gallery before. They had imagined that an art show would contain paintings on a wall. Instead their own invented identities and storylines were projected on to the gallery’s blank walls. The stories reflect both the students’ aspirations and their personal experience.


The students located their personas globally rather than locally. They visit and live in countries that many Grade 9 students have probably never heard of. One story starts with a character who lives in a poor area of Kenya, is adopted by Somalian pirates, and then meets his half-brother who teaches him to play soccer.


The exhibit is both a documentary and a reflection. The process of developing the identities and their final stories was documented and the footage is shown as part of the exhibit in a pixelated format.

The project is a graphic view of the world these young people carry around in their minds. I felt privileged to get a glimpse of it.




One thought on “Mapping the Territory: A Youth Perspective on Identity

  1. What an imaginative project. So much of our personal identities are challenged and shaped during the adolescent years, it is nice to know that technology can support this in a positive way.


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