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Hashtag Feminism: Examining Contemporary Feminist Concerns and Social Justice Activism in a Social Media Age

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In Western society’s image-saturated, media-driven culture, feminist activists have turned to social media to raise awareness for issues related to social justice and systemic oppression. At a time where social justice campaigns have erupted on social media, as evidenced by the recent #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, an inquiry into the influence of this activism, named as “hashtag feminism” is principal to understanding contemporary feminist concerns. This article explores how trends in hashtag feminism correspond to broader political goals, and investigates not only the opportunities for activism provided by social media platforms, but also, the potential limitations.
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Crossings (Number 3) 49
Hashtag Feminism: Examining
Contemporary Feminist Concerns and
Social Justice Activism in a Social Media
Age
Jennifer (Hammond) Sebring
Inception
This paper was written for Dr. Helene Vosters’ class, “Feminisms:
Current Perspectives,” in the Department of Women’s and Gender
Studies.
Abstract
In Western society’s image-saturated, media-driven culture, feminist
activists have turned to social media to raise awareness for issues
related to social justice and systemic oppression. At a time where
social justice campaigns have erupted on social media, as
evidenced by the recent #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, an
inquiry into the influence of this activism, named as “hashtag
feminism” is key to understanding contemporary feminist concerns.
This article explores how trends in hashtag feminism correspond to
broader political goals, and investigates not only the opportunities
for activism provided by social media platforms, but also, the
potential limitations.
It is no surprise that in our image-saturated, media-driven culture,
activists have turned to social media to raise awareness for their
cause. Although social media is often erupting with political
dialogue, the power this platform has for creating lasting change is
not exactly known. Social media activist campaigns that are
50 Crossings (Number 3)
circulated through the use of a hashtag, which allows users to easily
see what is being posted with the corresponding phrase, such as the
recent campaigns of #MeToo, or #TimesUp, have gained traction
and popularity. Through a close examination of hashtag feminism
activist campaigns, or simply “hashtag feminism,” I will examine how
feminist social media activism represents specific goals in current
feminist movements, and the benefits and drawbacks of this type of
activism in our present media-saturated society.
Feminists are no strangers to using media as an avenue to respond
to the sociocultural environment and according to relevant issues of
the patriarchal structures of their time. As feminist values have
grown, shifted, expanded, and otherwise been re-shaped, so has
the use and relevance of specific feminist media outlets.
Accordingly, as new avenues have emerged for activists to engage,
a more diverse demographic of feminists have gained access to a
platform in which to share their own personal contributions to
feminist activism and the larger political environment. Huneault and
Anderson note an increasing awareness and implementation of
intersectional theory in today’s feminist movement (22). In their
article, “A Past as Rich as Our Futures Allow: A Genealogy of
Feminist Art in Canada,” they acknowledge the history of feminist art
in Canada and the corresponding values as a way of imagining
future possibilities for feminist art and activism. They demonstrate
that intersectionality has been a focus since the 1970s, but still, we
must be wary of perpetuating white feminism in our activism today,
and avoid an “essentialism that limited women in the name of freeing
them that naively celebrated their accomplishments in place of
dismantling discursive constructs and destabilizing identity” (45).
Their article remains relevant in feminist engagements with social
media activism. As public use of social media as a way of advancing
social change increases and becomes mainstream, a commitment
to self-reflection and inclusivity is mandatory to ensure hashtag
feminism avoids the exclusionary practices of past feminisms.
Although the emphasis on intersectionality is evident in current
Crossings (Number 3) 51
feminisms, the question is whether this is being reflected in hashtag
feminism, or if this social media movement is simply reinforcing and
perpetuating the power relationships we are trying to dismantle.
Upon an evaluation of the top posts in #feminism (see fig. 1),
#feminist (see fig. 2), and #feministaccount (see fig. 3) on Instagram,
it is clear that there are some specific commonalities in what is being
posted in these hashtags. Previously, I have noticed an influx of
craftivism, celebration of women’s accomplishments, a show of
solidarity to other women, validation of the right for people to make
their own choices and be accepted for such choices, both
conventionally feminine imagery and a subversion of such imagery,
gender expression that challenges social norms, engagement with
continued feminist education, and most of all, a focus on both
personal autonomy and bodily autonomy. However, for the purposes
of this article, I will be examining screenshots taken on April 6th,
2018, at approximately 4 PM in the afternoon, CST.
52 Crossings (Number 3)
FIG 1. Screenshot of top posts in
#Feminism tag on Instagram.
Taken at 3:56 pm on April 6, 2018.
#Feminism • Instagram Photos and Videos,
www.instagram.com/explore/tags/feminism/.
Crossings (Number 3) 53
FIG 2. Screenshot of top posts in
#Feminist tag on Instagram.
Taken at 3:57 pm on April 6, 2018.
#Feminist • Instagram Photos and Videos,
www.instagram.com/explore/tags/feminist/.
54 Crossings (Number 3)
FIG 3. Screenshot of top posts in
#Feministaccount tag on Instagram.
Taken at 3:58 pm on April 6, 2018.
#Feministaccount • Instagram Photos and Videos,
www.instagram.com/explore/tags/feministaccount/.
Crossings (Number 3) 55
Considering these screenshots are of the “top posts” on Instagram,
they reveal that hashtag activism, at least on this social media
platform, is often concerned with addressing male privilege, claiming
an unapologetic feminist identity, representing women across races,
engaging humour to address everyday sexism and racism, attention
to sexual assault awareness and activism, and solidarity among
women. However, I also noted misappropriation of the hashtags
presented to draw viewers to posts completely unrelated to feminist
activism. This phenomenon perhaps hints at the growing popularity
and engagement with feminism in mainstream society and on social
media platforms. If everyday users are utilizing the hashtag to draw
more attention to irrelevant poststhat is, posts that are not related
to feminist politicsit suggests that feminism now has considerable
social traction. Hashtag feminism has gained enough circulation
within social media that others are capitalizing on this draw to direct
attention to their own content and increase their population and
reach. Although feminisms have often been relegated to activism
and the academy, it is clear they are becoming more accessible to
a larger, mainstream demographic. Even so, the utilization of social
media for activism has been an interesting development and
academics have taken up the phenomenon of hashtag feminism and
explored its implications in our world.
The accessibility and widespread use of social media has also
allowed those of marginalized communities to have a platform of
which to share their experiences and struggles regarding social
justice. In particular, hashtag activism and hashtag feminism have
given rise to theories of intersectionality outside of the academy. For
example, movements such as Black Lives Matter, and their use of
social media in their political efforts, “have finally succeeded in
making intersectional issues of racial oppression visible to
mainstream America” (Jackson, 377). Other scholars have noted
that while hashtag feminism allows for widespread collectivity, which
is helpful in calling attention to issues, it also easily allows for issues
to be oversimplified, or even for capitalist or colonialist ideas to be
56 Crossings (Number 3)
reinforced (Khoja-Moolji, 349). This critique echoes a critique of the
intersectional feminist movement put forward by Kimberlé
Crenshaw, a foundational feminist activist and theorist who coined
the concept of intersectionality. Crenshaw celebrates the
implementation of intersectionality for building coalitions across
identity groups, but warns that attention needs to be given to the
nuances of intersectionality and group identity politics overall
(Crenshaw, 492). Moving forward, it is clear that simply engaging in
hashtag feminism is not enough. One must also consider other
feminist values in their practices of social media activism and
question whose voices are being marginalized, and be reflective of
the messages they are circulating. This introduction of feminism to
mainstream audiences through simplified hashtags leaves plenty of
room for messages to be spread or misinterpreted without
consideration or knowledge of feminism’s history or foundational
theories.
Longstanding feminist theories of gender as performative, utilization
of embodied activism, fighting for women’s access to the public
sphere, and their right to their own bodily autonomy are gaining
traction on social media platforms. Although perhaps the issues
have been quite altered by years of changing political climates,
many of the same issues of earlier feminist movements are echoed
in hashtag feminist activism. Following similar sentiments of Kate
Bornstein in My Gender Workbook, much of hashtag feminist
activism offers those questioning their gender and identity
reassurance and affirmation while underscoring the importance of
being attentive to self-care strategies (Bornstein, 1-24). Hester Baer
notes that hashtag feminism tends to “employ the female body in
ways that call attention to gender norms as open to
transformation...engage...with the objectification of female bodies in
media culture; with injunctions about women’s roles in public
spaces; and above all with the subjection of women to sexual
violence” (23). It seems that, in accordance with the empowerment
women achieved during the second wave, issues of sexual violence
Crossings (Number 3) 57
are being powerfully addressed, worldwide, and hashtag feminism
is playing a role in offering awareness and building coalitions
internationally to fight this issue (Enloe, 501). Power does seem to
lie in the broad reach of hashtag feminism, but we must question
who is benefitting from this power, and who is still silenced. Perhaps
it is not a question of how much power hashtag activism affords
feminism, but of how conducive this platform actually is for enacting
political change that benefits minority communities.
Hashtag feminism has both been praised and dismissed, but despite
the critiques that exist, its prevalence and influence on politics
cannot be ignored. Due to its prevalence and increasingly popular
use by the general public, mobilizing hashtag activism as a way of
pushing for social change presents some benefits for activist
movements. Hashtag feminism allows for transnational communities
to be built and gain collective power, for sharing personal
experiences of intersectional oppression, and it offers new or
“creative modes” of activism (Baer, 18). New media, including social
media, offers more opportunities for people of marginalized
communities to engage in politics, to have their voices heard, their
messages circulated, and to create dialogue, as there are fewer
“gate-keepers” than traditional media. This is not to say that social
media allows for complete freedom and autonomy for its usersthe
influence of big tech companies, such as Facebook and Twitter, is
undeniable (see Gillespie). Social media platforms and a user’s
experience of such are shaped by the political and economic
interests of these companies, therefore the effectiveness of
campaigns such as hashtag feminism is at risk of being limited. Still,
through social media, marginalized groups can reach larger media
corporations, such as Twitter and Facebook, and make their issues
visible to mainstream audiences (Mann, 295). With its “expansive”
reach, the use of hashtags makes it easy for ideas to circulate and
re-circulate, and movements to gain momentum (Stache, 162).
58 Crossings (Number 3)
It has also been noted that hashtag feminism is good for awareness
and joining those who understand the concepts behind the hashtag,
but otherwise, has some concerning aspects. For instance, the
mainstreaming of feminism may allow for simplification of complex
issues in favour of circulating catchy slogans or easily digested
ideas, much as Crenshaw warned. However, social media, and art,
and the connections made through these platforms do allow us a
way of imagining, and of hoping for, potential futurestransformed
futures. The images and messages we spread may perhaps be
images that represent the world we would like to see, and social
media allows us to envision this world alongside many others.
However, we must remain concerned and attentive to ensure we are
not limiting marginalized groups through ignorance or lack of
consideration for the nuances of our politics and how they intersect
with the varying lived experiences of those with whom we seek
solidarity.
Despite the collectivity of social media and its other benefits, just as
with any other type of activism, it can have its downfalls. For
example, as noted in my analysis of the Instagram posts, the
downfall is often that hashtags are re-appropriated in ways that are
unhelpful to the original intentions of the social justice movement
(Stache, 163). It is also not clear whether social justice campaigns
and their related hashtag activism are creating real political action or
simply spreading a superficial understanding of feminism, often
simplified to messages simply promoting “girl power” (Stache 163).
In this vein, we must be wary and resist commodification of the very
groups we seek to give visibility to (Kingston, 294). Anique Jordan
addresses aspects of this type of commodification in her recent
installation at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Although she is speaking to
the event of Canada 150, her sentiment remains the same when
applied to hashtag feminism. Essentially, she asks, is our way of
fighting back, offering alternatives, and seeking a different future
simply becoming a commodity utilised by the very systems and
corporations that have marginalized us (Jordon, Tangential
Crossings (Number 3) 59
Tableus…”)? We must continue to consider and engage, and
perhaps, rectify, when possible, the disadvantages of using this
relatively accessible platform in our feminist activism. Although
influential in many ways, this very power to reach audiences
worldwide, can be an issue. The transnational aspect of social
media, for example, offers a way to provide awareness to issues in
other areas of the world, but simultaneously makes it quite easy for
Western voices to speak over or speak for those of marginalized
communities who have continually been silenced.
In keeping with Western ideologies, of course, is the potential for
social media and its hashtag activisms to be commodified in our
capitalist society and for-profit enterprises. Anyone who has used
social media knows that advertisements and capitalist sentiments
are becoming a “necessary evil” to navigate while scrolling through
newsfeeds, watching videos, or even streaming music. As social
media use continues to grow, so does the implementation of it as an
avenue for advertising, capitalist ventures, and the negative
influence and control of capitalist structures may spill over into what
seems like a relatively “free” and accessible media outlet for users
(Rey, 401). Similarly, with the influence of capitalist and right-wing
political values, combined with an opportunity for anonymity that
encourages severe harassment among users, the freedom offered
by social media platforms may become limited. Users’ privacy and
access to social media, especially for radical activism, may be
constrained as both the government and corporate organizations
increase their surveillance, expand the reach of their control and
implement policing strategies regarding user-access to online
avenues such as social media (Uldam, 42). This poses many
questions, including how long social media will remain influential and
be utilized as a driving force for activism, before government and
corporate organizations exert power over users and limit their online
activity. For many, concerns about government control and policing
of the internet and related media channels have been raised, with
the threat of repealing policies such as Net Neutrality, and other
60 Crossings (Number 3)
violations to one’s rights and personal freedoms. It seems that the
government and media corporations may not be able to introduce
increased surveillance strategies, upon facing public backlash.
However, it is also worth considering how much influence social
media does have in the current resistance, and in community and
activist organizing. How are we to feel secure in our ability to
organize if so much of it depends on our access to tools like social
media? The implementation of hashtag activism and capitalist
practices demand we consider such questions, and imagine a way
forward, if our abilities to organize in such large numbers does
become inhibited.
Although hashtag feminism may seem like an attractive way to
promote our social justice activism in an age where we are so
connected to social media, we must approach it with the same care
and consideration of any other social justice campaign. It is
empowering to be able to reach thousands, across the globe, with
our messages, by simply using the hashtag. However, this
international reach must not simply reinforce the current power
systems in place by replicating them. We must actively remain
engaged in the practice of questioning our feminisms: Who is
benefitting? Who is being silenced? How does hashtag activism
translate into enacting political change? Is it commodifying important
concepts and theories, such as feminism, or is it promoting
understanding, and awareness of complicated issues? Hashtag
feminism has its place and its value, but just as we are aware of its
benefits, we must also remain acutely aware of its potential
consequences.
Crossings (Number 3) 61
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... De forma más amplia, algunos autores han considerado el hashtag como una especie de encuadre que permite indicar los temas que son importantes y que exigen nuestra atención (Clark, 2016;Hemphill et al., 2013;Xiong et al., 2019). Otra línea de investigación estudia el activismo hashtag como un tipo de agencia que brinda cierto poder discursivo para galvanizar narrativas de aquellos que intentan fomentar el cambio (Dixon, 2014;Masullo et al., 2018;Sebring, 2019;Yang, 2016). ...
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... This rapid dissemination of news through social media channels has increased in social and political importance, and it has changed the way we share, consume and engage with news and information, both as individuals and as societies (Huiberts, 2020;Ku et al., 2019;Lee & Ma, 2012;Salgado & Bobba, 2019;Shah et al., 2019). The real world effects of social networks on news, politics and society have been examined and deliberated in different situations, such as in feminist activism against misogyny and gendered violence (Barker-Plummer & Barker-Plummer, 2017;Jackson & Banaszczyk, 2016;Sebring, 2019), in the challenging of police brutality and institutionalised racism (Gross, 2017), and in sociopolitical engagement and activism, like the protests and demonstrations of the Arab Spring in the early 2010s (Harlow, 2013;Howard et al., 2011;Soengas-Pérez, C 192 Globalisation,13,14,51,116,130,132,139,140,163,166,168,170,172,199,200 Global warming,146 Goldman Sachs,257 Gold mining,117 Governor of Sarawak,3,113,119,121 Graffiti,210 Green Brunei,147 Greenhouse gas,146,147 Groom,239,241,242,[244][245][246][247][248][249][250][251][252]146 Guangdong,70 Guerrilla Artchitects,210,211 Gujarati,52 H Hadrah (a traditional musical instrument), 247 Hainan,70,78 Hainanese,6,71 Hainanese Association,70 Hairol Khan,210 Haji Saman,121,134,137 Hakka,6,[69][70][71]78 Hakka Association,70 Halal ('permitted in Islam'),56,60,61,131,135,152,167 Halim,Yura,9, ,6,7,11,172 Identity,2,5,13,14,26,50,67,69,71,76,77,95,96,98,107,[127][128][129][130][131][132][133][134][135][136][137][138][139][140]145,149,151,153,[164][165][166][167][168][169][170][171][172][173]178,200,202,206,211,212,216,221,222,231,232,239 Idioms,22 Incest,28 Independence,4,5,11,69,79,95,100,104,114,[127][128][129][130][131]133,134,149,179,[202][203][204]206,211,219 India,6,23,52,200 Indonesia,2,4,12,68,69,131,202 Industrial revolution,49,201,206 Inequality,24 Ingres,200 Instagram,13,[49][50][51][52][53][54]58,61,63,64,255 Malay language,4,5,12,[21][22][23]26,30,31,50,95,127,128,[132][133][134]138 Malay Language Month,50 Malayness,10,96,133,166 Malay Peninsula,118 Malaysia,2,4,7,12,22,30,50,[67][68][69]115,116,131,137,183,186,202,215,257 Mandarin,6,[67][68][69][70][71][72][75][76][77][78][79] Mandi hadas ('cleansing bath'), 247 Manila,120 Marginalization,128,132,136,140 Marsidi Omar,207 MASTERA,115 Matisse,Henri,201 McArthur,Malcolm,4 Media Permata (MP),[21][22][23][24][26][27][28][29][30]32,35,36,62 Medium of instruction,12,50,51,69, Monarchy'), 2, 5, 11-13, 31, 35, 38, 50, 63, 95, 123, 127-134, 137, 139, 164, 166-169, 179, 206, 216, 220-222, 225, 226, 232 Muhibah,13,36,37,46 Murut,1,[6][7][8]132 Museums Department,207 Muslim Burmat,9,14,[115][116][117][118][119][120][121][122][123]148,149 Mussidi,9,148,[151][152][153][154][155][156][157][158]160 Index ...
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... This rapid dissemination of news through social media channels has increased in social and political importance, and it has changed the way we share, consume and engage with news and information, both as individuals and as societies (Huiberts, 2020;Ku et al., 2019;Lee & Ma, 2012;Salgado & Bobba, 2019;Shah et al., 2019). The real world effects of social networks on news, politics, and society have been examined and deliberated in different situations, such as in feminist activism against misogyny and gendered violence (Barker-Plummer & Barker-Plummer, 2017;Jackson & Banaszczyk, 2016;Sebring, 2019), in the challenging of police brutality and institutionalized racism (Gross, 2017), and in sociopolitical engagement and activism, like the protests and demonstrations of the Arab Spring in the early 2010s (Harlow, 2013;Howard et al., 2011;Soengas-Pérez, 2013;Stepanova, 2011). Many of these situations have had national and international impacts, and have been dissected and debated online across the world. ...
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Social network sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok and Reddit have become part of our shared consciousness. Brunei Darussalam is a small nation of less than half a million people and reportedly has one of the highest instances of social media penetration in the region (and possibly globally). With the recently completed implementation of the third (of three) phase(s) of sharia law, Brunei has been thrust into the international spotlight. Discussions and rhetoric abound across the world, and multiple reactions and responses have been shared, analysed and shared again. One of the main avenues for these is the social mediascape. This is none too surprising given the ubiquity of social media today and its role as a digital commons of sorts where discourse of all kinds and purposes takes place. Social media also allows the easy dissemination of information across the world, resulting in some from the outside assuming the mantle of “defender of the downtrodden”; many have taken offense on behalf of the supposed beleaguered masses who purportedly suffer under laws many global on-lookers describe as barbaric and backward. But to what extent are local voices represented in the online echo chamber of discussion of Brunei’s sharia law? And what are these local voices saying about sharia and the current clime within this small Islamic nation? This paper aims to examine the publicly available local social media responses to sharia law in Brunei, and consider the different viewpoints and perspectives of those whose daily lives may be affected by it.
... This rapid dissemination of news through social media channels has increased in social and political importance, and it has changed the way we share, consume and engage with news and information, both as individuals and as societies (Huiberts, 2020;Ku et al., 2019;Lee & Ma, 2012;Salgado & Bobba, 2019;Shah et al., 2019). The real world effects of social networks on news, politics and society have been examined and deliberated in different situations, such as in feminist activism against misogyny and gendered violence (Barker-Plummer & Barker-Plummer, 2017;Jackson & Banaszczyk, 2016;Sebring, 2019), in the challenging of police brutality and institutionalised racism (Gross, 2017), and in sociopolitical engagement and activism, like the protests and demonstrations of the Arab Spring in the early 2010s (Harlow, 2013;Howard et al., 2011;Soengas-Pérez, C 192 Globalisation,13,14,51,116,130,132,139,140,163,166,168,170,172,199,200 Global warming,146 Goldman Sachs,257 Gold mining,117 Governor of Sarawak,3,113,119,121 Graffiti,210 Green Brunei,147 Greenhouse gas,146,147 Groom,239,241,242,[244][245][246][247][248][249][250][251][252]146 Guangdong,70 Guerrilla Artchitects,210,211 Gujarati,52 H Hadrah (a traditional musical instrument), 247 Hainan,70,78 Hainanese,6,71 Hainanese Association,70 Hairol Khan,210 Haji Saman,121,134,137 Hakka,6,[69][70][71]78 Hakka Association,70 Halal ('permitted in Islam'),56,60,61,131,135,152,167 Halim,Yura,9, ,6,7,11,172 Identity,2,5,13,14,26,50,67,69,71,76,77,95,96,98,107,[127][128][129][130][131][132][133][134][135][136][137][138][139][140]145,149,151,153,[164][165][166][167][168][169][170][171][172][173]178,200,202,206,211,212,216,221,222,231,232,239 Idioms,22 Incest,28 Independence,4,5,11,69,79,95,100,104,114,[127][128][129][130][131]133,134,149,179,[202][203][204]206,211,219 India,6,23,52,200 Indonesia,2,4,12,68,69,131,202 Industrial revolution,49,201,206 Inequality,24 Ingres,200 Instagram,13,[49][50][51][52][53][54]58,61,63,64,255 Malay language,4,5,12,[21][22][23]26,30,31,50,95,127,128,[132][133][134]138 Malay Language Month,50 Malayness,10,96,133,166 Malay Peninsula,118 Malaysia,2,4,7,12,22,30,50,[67][68][69]115,116,131,137,183,186,202,215,257 Mandarin,6,[67][68][69][70][71][72][75][76][77][78][79] Mandi hadas ('cleansing bath'), 247 Manila,120 Marginalization,128,132,136,140 Marsidi Omar,207 MASTERA,115 Matisse,Henri,201 McArthur,Malcolm,4 Media Permata (MP),[21][22][23][24][26][27][28][29][30]32,35,36,62 Medium of instruction,12,50,51,69, Monarchy'), 2, 5, 11-13, 31, 35, 38, 50, 63, 95, 123, 127-134, 137, 139, 164, 166-169, 179, 206, 216, 220-222, 225, 226, 232 Muhibah,13,36,37,46 Murut,1,[6][7][8]132 Museums Department,207 Muslim Burmat,9,14,[115][116][117][118][119][120][121][122][123]148,149 Mussidi,9,148,[151][152][153][154][155][156][157][158]160 Index ...
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Since 1950, when His Majesty Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien III ascended to the throne, Brunei Darussalam has leapt into modernity. In the historical and cultural context of Brunei, modernity is not just about urban and infrastructure development, technological innovation and industrialisation. It is also about the redefinition of cultural identity, of the notions of the social self, collective identity, cultural mnemonics and remembrance of identity and traditions before the rise of western colonialism. Over the last decades, with the rapid pace of globalisation in a digital world and the development of a global urban culture and global cities, young artists in Brunei have been contesting a redefinition of Bruneian cultural identity through a noticeable rupture with the traditional conventions of visual expressions of culture and identity. Historically, artistic practice is one of the most significant forms of objectivisation of culture and identity as it frames their definitions through a social and epistemological approach. This paper analyses the discourses and narratives represented in art exhibitions and contemporary artistic practice such as painting, sculpture, installation, video-installations and mixed-media works intending to identify the markers of Bruneian cultural identity. Additionally, this paper examines the coexistence of institutional and community construct of cultural identity materialised in contemporary artistic practice and the narratives of contemporary art exhibitions.
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