New Fisher Museum exhibit explores womanhood in different nations

The installation features photographs taken by women in their own communities.

The USC Fisher Museum of Art is hosting a week-long photo exhibition of the girls featured in the New York Times book #ThisIs18. The exhibit captures glimpses of what girlhood and the transition into adulthood looks like around the world.

Recognizing 18 as a significant age for any gender, but specifically for girls, the contributors of the story set out to document the lives of 18-year-old girls around the world. Jessica Bennett, Sandra Stevenson, Anya Strzemien, and Sharon Attia hoped to give a voice to girls across many different cultures by commissioning young women photographers to tell the stories of the girls in their communities.

The exhibit is meant to allow community members to document themselves and present their own unique perspectives, rather than using professional photojournalists.

The exhibition displayed photos of the girls performing their day-to-day activities with quotes that expressed their ambitions, hopes, and fears. Their photos came from areas such as South Korea, the West Bank and Cuba. Many of the girls in developing countries shared the hope to study past primary school and into college, showing interest in a diverse range of subjects.

Neha Halebeed, a freshman studying communication, noted how she felt more appreciative of her opportunities after walking through the exhibit.

“I feel like my life path was almost predestined and I knew I was going to college,” said Halebeed. “But a lot of the photos in these exhibits say well, they hope to go to college or they hope they can graduate and it’s just something I knew was going to happen.”

Jenny Johnson, a USC student studying astronomy, also voiced a similar gratitude in almost instinctively being able to attend college.

“It’s such a privilege just being here in college and I never doubted that I was going. It was just the next step and it’s almost certain that I’m going to be doing more school after this too,” said Johnson.

Some of the photographed girls expressed their hopes in making a significant impact on international policies, including global warming and women’s rights. Others voiced concerns about simply ensuring that they could maintain a job, care for their child or somehow attend university in the midst of a teenage marriage.

There was one photograph of a girl from Canada, who, at the age of 14, was already working instead of going to school. Halebeed said she was surprised to see that this was the case for a girl living in that country.

“I think of Canada as very similar to the United States where 14-year-old [girls] are in school and then go to college,” said Halebeed.

Johnson acknowledged the circumstances of many of the girls in developing countries, but also appreciated the spirit of one girl photographed in Israel.

“I liked her quote about how she’s going to steer her life and she’s in control,” said Johnson. “I think that definitely is a contrast to some of the others where they don’t know their future and it’s a lot of uncertainty and fear.”

Upon concluding their visit to the exhibit, both Johnson and Halebeed recognized their experience as “eye-opening”.

“I’m very privileged, and a lot of us at USC are privileged for being able to know that we have these things laid out for us. Realizing that there’s people not like that makes us appreciative of the lives that we live,” said Halebeed.

The exhibit will be on display in the Fisher Museum until Saturday, February 15.