Selling Dreams presents a new way of observing the African cityscape and questions the specificity and universality of marketing and the representations employed by market forces. It began on Virginia Ryan’s return to Abidjan in November 2011 as a period of civil strife and violence named ‘La Crise’ was ending. The city had suffered the trauma of violence and was slowly picking itself up economically and politically. Ryan set out to document familiar places by sourcing the suspended idealised world of publicity floating above.
Advertising posters placed above streets, bridges and markets present a pantheon of super-beings who possess symbolic objects of desire in a globalised world. Representing and suggesting the potential aspirations of the inhabitants in a contemporary African city. The production of the oversized billboards exposes the false stereotype of African urbanity that lingers in some western minds. They display a tension between fiction and reality, between an idealised virtual world and an expanding city pushing itself forward towards hope and a possible future. The models smile down at the city’s inhabitants going about daily business in an often harsh post-traumatic reality. The passing parade of predominantly beautiful people and objects presented as publicity, promises fulfilment, happiness, and wholeness within a materially rich context where no one is deprived. The often glossy and sexy images are engaged in a visual conversation with the surrounding context of distressed modernist architecture, bumpy roads, and fast-growing building sites. They present a fast changing world where the future unfolds before your eyes and tradition meets modernity. The mix of luxury cars, holidays, perfumes, homewares, fashion, and messages from religious leaders proselytising and promoting ministries is appealing to people thirsty for spiritual nourishment in a fast changing world.
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