The project ‘Selling Dreams’ was initiated on Virginia Ryan’s return to Abidjan in November 2011, as a period of civil strife and violence was coming to an end after what was called ‘La Crise’ . The city had recently suffered the trauma of violence and was slowly picking itself up, economically and politically. She set out to document familiar places by sourcing this suspended, idealised floating world of publicity above ; a world representing or suggesting potential aspirations of the inhabitants of a contemporary African city . Many of the images were taken from the car window in traffic jams, snapped with no preliminary preparation.
These Affiches Publicitaires suspended above the streets, bridges and markets in the African city of Abidjan present a pantheon of super-beings, possessors of symbolic objects of desire in a globalised world . They smile down from their billboards at the city’s inhabitants going about their daily business in the often harsh post -traumatic reality of 2012-2014.
The photos display the tension between the fiction above and experience at ground level, between an idealised virtual world and an actual city expanding, developing and pushing itself into the future. Pushing itself towards Hope, towards a possible future.
The passing parade of predominantly beautiful, desirable people and objects presented in the world of publicity promise personal fulfilment, happiness and wholeness within a materially rich context.
A world where no~one suffers deprivation.
The production of the oversize West African billboards exposes the falsity of stereotypes of African urbanity lingering in some Western minds. The images, often glossy and sexy, are engaged in a visual conversation with the surrounding context of modernist, stressed architecture, bumpy roads and fast~growing building sites. It is a world of fast change, where the future unfolds before our eyes, where tradition meets modernity.
The mix is heady - luxury cars, perfumes, voyages, home products, fashion and messages from religious leaders prothletising from the billboard pulpits, advertising Ministries to a people thirsting for spiritual nourishment in a world of fast change. By documenting this reality of a contemporary urban city, Ryan presents not only a new way of observing the African cityscape, but also asks questions about the specificity or universality of regional and global marketing and the objects and human representations employed by market forces , whether local or international.
Selections of the photographs have been previously shown at Galerie Cecile Fakhoury in Abidjan, at the 1:54 African Art Fair in Somerset House in London (2014) , the Rome Photo Festival in 2015 and at Palazzo Lucarini Contemporary, Trevi, Italy.
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