The main objective of this project was to examine the relationship between the construction of youth identity and public spaces in East Asia. It seeked to understand how public spaces shape East Asian youth identity, how youth use public spaces, what the practices and strategies of appropriation are, and how the active presence of youth in public spaces influences the negotiation of beliefs, values and memory in terms of continuity and change, and shapes collective identities. Regardless of their differences, which might explain why they are seldom considered together in the literature, youths in Vietnam, Laos and China share similarities that the photographs in this exhibition vividly capture.
Images are not merely a research tool for ethnographers. Visuality has come to play a significant part in the everyday lives of our interlocutors. On the one hand, through the performance and display of self and collective identities, youths convey their agency, be it in virtual or physical space. On the other hand, visibility may put one at risk in more authoritarian contexts. In this sense, the selection in this exhibition also reflects the researchers’ responsibility towards those they work with. This reminds us that behind the taxonomies assigned through scholarly work (“Asian youth”) are flesh-and-blood, singular individuals embedded in complex webs of social relations.