Rexdale high school students explore social identity in exhibit

by | Mar 10, 2017 | Biz/Tech, Headlines, Life

Hiba Traboulsi

News Reporter

From Facebook and Twitter to Instagram and Snapchat, youth face new challenges to manifest their identities in virtual space and relate them to the physical and social realities of their community.

mAPPing the Territory, a digital exhibition at Humber’s North Space Gallery, explores such questions by storytelling through data mapping and social media.

Wednesday’s launch unveiled a show by Grade 9 Rexdale students from Pathways to Education, a program that helps youth transition from high school to post-secondary education or employment.

“This is a project that aligns perfectly with Humber’s strategic plan, academic goals, and priorities,” Laurie Rancourt, Humber’s senior vice-president, academic, told the gathering.

Participants were mentored by the creative studio Department of Unusual Certainties (DoUC) in making the content for this exhibition. Over the course of six weeks, each student created a persona and a fictional story to go along with it.

“The first couple of weeks were about hand sketching and drawing,” said Christopher Pandolfi, co-founder of DoUC. “In the third week we introduced iPads, where we asked students to take the stories they created to now make fake social media accounts with them and build them.”

“For us, we wanted to see what it was like for them to have the tool of the internet to look up images. Are they going to continue to build on the story that they made or are they going to completely change it up?”

After working with students around classic design techniques, storyboarding, persona development, journey mapping and geographical mapping, the final product took over the wall of the North Space Gallery at the Learning Resource Commons. Each persona was digitally screened with its own social media handles (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat) along with a timeline of the persona’s story. Persona names included “Badmon Drey(isha),” “Rihanna Jones” and “Neymar Messi” and their stories revolved around the themes of identity, family, gender, religion and money.

Salomeh Ahmedi, program facilitator of mAPPing the Territory, emphasized the importance of storytelling.

“Whether they are funny or silly or serious, it’s really important to tell stories, otherwise someone will tell your story for you,” she said in addressing the Grade 9 participants attending the launch.

Asked about the effectiveness of storytelling, Ahmedi stressed the importance of the source in telling their story.

“When people are able to share a story through a medium or a platform that they are comfortable with, they can be creative and uninhibited, because you can write a story through just writing on a piece of paper or maybe you can visualize it through, whether it’s painting, digital, data or through film or through articles or different forms of expression,” she said.

City councillor Vincent Crisanti also shared his insights at the gathering.

“Our neighborhood is as unique as the youth who live here and it’s exciting to see this reflected in contemporary art here at the North Gallery. Gaining your perspective from a unique and creative lens contributes greatly to community well-being and identity,” he said.

As the room filled with students eager to see their final product on the wall, many took to their cellphones to capture the moment.

Ayni Mohamad, a Grade 9 student from West Humber Collegiate Institute, said that she favours Instagram over any other social media outlet.

“There’s celebrities on there and we can see what they’re doing. There’s also interesting pretty pictures, like hair pictures, and it’s generally stuff that catches people’s attention,” Mohamad said. “Social media affects my day to day life because it’s where I socialize with my friends and post pictures. I probably spend about five hours on social media each day.”

Rashad Hakim and Nehal Patel, fellow Grade 9 students from West Humber, also said they enjoy Instagram as their favorite social media medium, along with Snapchat.

“There’s many different ways to use it,” Patel said.

mAPPing the Territory is supported by Humber College Community Partnership Fund and is a part of Myseum Intersections, an annual exhibit festival that explores the different perspectives of Toronto’s cultural and historic diversity.