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    Imagining the contemporary ASEAN discourse by way of participatory photography and curatorial collaboration

    Agustin, Kristian Jeff Cortez (2023) Imagining the contemporary ASEAN discourse by way of participatory photography and curatorial collaboration. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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    Through creative practice-as-research, this study contributes to the regional identity discourse of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), more than fifty years since its founding. Whilst the ten-country bloc’s leaders have always alluded to a shared sense of regional identity, ordinary citizens are often left out of the picture except at specific touchpoints, such as during widely mediatised annual intergovernmental summits or locally organised ‘parade of nations’ in schools. In recent years, however, the notion of ‘ASEAN identity’ is increasingly being shaped by public discourse. This shift is not only concomitant with current social movements – such as decolonisation, human rights, and racial equality – but it also coincides with the widespread use of polymedia across the region. Accounting for these observations, the curatorresearcher collaborated with 16 international participants (who are based in different Southeast Asian countries and the UK) in producing paracuratorial experiments that convey ‘ASEAN-ness’. Almost two years of data-gathering entailed an online exhibition in late 2020 as well as a public performance in mid-2021 – rendering the research practice accountable to the general public. As demonstrated in this study’s complementary use of participatory photography and curatorial collaboration, the ASEAN imaginary emerges as a multifaceted picture of Southeast Asians’ shared sense of community. However, this kinship is contingent only on the reciprocity of their vision, hence visual culture proves an essential aspect of ASEAN’s regional identity discourse. This practice-based PhD research offers various intersections between area studies, cultural studies, curatorial research, and visual communication, which could prove useful for scholars conducting participatory research in Southeast Asia – or across the Global South. Whilst the key contribution of this study is specific to critical discourses relating to an understanding of ASEAN-ness, it is also generally applicable to the development of collaborative practice-based methods utilising photography, exhibition design, and art production.

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