What’s it like to be 18 in New Zealand?


  • Community
  • Auckland
March 30, 2020 Verity Johnson

The YWCA ​launched the 18×18 project in November 2019. The 18x18 project is a traveling immersive photo essay experience into the real lives of 18-year-old young women in today's world. The organisation spent a year interviewing young women, and collating their stories and photos into a roving exhibition experience.

One of the challenges for us of being founded in 1878, is that for an old organisation like YWCA you’ve got to keep coming up with ways of being relevant that still stay true to your brand’s purpose. Even if you’ve been doing it for over 140 years like we have.

In our case, our focus as an organisation centres around raising the voices of young women in Aotearoa. And so our focus for 2019 was how we do this in a way that adds new zest to a what’s now a well established goal. 

We knew we wanted to start with some honest storytelling but not from us, from the young women themselves. You’d heard it all before from us, and the power lies in us giving a platform to young women to be brutally honest (often for the first time) in their opinions.

We’d kept hearing how the girls were unhappy with how inaccurately the mainstream portrayed young women’s lives. And what with the upswell of youth issues such as climate change strikes and mental health crisis, and rumblings about generational differences, it seemed like there was a great deal of interest and confusion about what young people these days are feeling.

The time felt right to do something, and after reading a similar photo essay in the New York Times on 18-year-old American girls, it had never felt like a better time to ask our girls to tell their stories. So came along the 18×18 project, a travelling immersive photo essay experience into the real lives of 18 year old young women today. 

We opened the exhibition in Silo 6, Silo Park, before beginning our tour around Auckland. But the goal wasn’t just to cater to the usual audience of photo exhibitions and art galleries. What we really wanted to do was reach the 18 year old girls too – especially ones who’ve traditionally felt ignored. We wanted these young women to know we were listening.

Naturally, that raised the big question, how do we engage 18 year olds? Especially those who’d never normally go to an art exhibition? And especially with a brand that’s over 140 years old?

Since the launch last year the exhibition has been viewed on places like Britomart, Westfield Mall, and Studio One in Ponsonby and it has also been available online

It has also been featured in media - both print, radio and digitally. 

Read the stories from the 18 young women here.

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