"This photo series was born from our joint love of going to the Adjamé market. With every trip we made, we fell more in love with the beauty and strength of the women that worked there"
On a recent trip to the Ivory Coast, creative director and graphic designer AHMED ABOKOR photographed the series "Where There is a Woman, There is Magic." Collaborating with with friend and fashion designer ELLEN ELIAS, the images were born out of their shared love for Adjamé market in Abidjan; a dynamic and vibrant shopping space that sells everything from onions and potatoes to jewellery and textiles. The market's lush array of colourful fabric is what initially drew the pair there, but overtime they became in awe of the "strong women sellers" populating the market. Each seller had their own beautifully arranged items of stock, from popcorn and brooms to locally produced vegetables and fruit. The series intends to shed light on the importance of women in Africa's post-colonial economy. We chat to Ahmed and Ellen about their trip to Abidjan and the inspiration behind "Where There is a Woman, There is Magic."
What was the reason for this trip?
E: I was working on my new collection, sourcing material, and creating samples.
A: This trip came at the right time for me personally, we were about to enter the second lockdown here in the UK and I desperately needed a way out. Creatively, I needed a bit of inspiration and that’s when Ellen got in contact with me. She explained that she was going to Ivory Coast to work on her latest fashion collection and asked if I would be interested in joining her on this adventure. I knew Ellen actually went the year before and spoke so highly of the place so I jumped at the opportunity of joining her.
E: I initially planned to go alone, but I told Ahmed and few friends to join me if they were available at that time.
A: The homie Ellen.
Was this your first time in Abidjan? If yes, what were your first impressions, if no, what drew you back?
E: This was actually my second time, my first time was the year before. I went there for another project last year and ended up loving it so much I stayed longer than planned. It has big-city energy but you can also drive 20 min to nature and the ocean and escape it all. Perfect equilibrium.
A: Yeah, it was my very first time in Abidjan. The landscape of the city is incredible, there are so many different terrains! We saw beaches, lagoons, hills, freshwater lakes, the ocean, and super green forests. The diversity in nature really had had me inspired with awe.
How did you organise the trip?
E: It was the smoothest planning ever. I had a friend living there at the time I just had to book my flight.
A: The planning of the trip was really a straightforward task, I was with Ellen who has already made the trip and knew her way around the city and also made a lot of connections with locals. The trip was very spontaneous, within a few weeks of Ellen asking me to join her we were there.
Tell us about Where There is a Woman, There is Magic and the reason behind the photo series?
E: African women have been key to the economic growth and development in post-colonial Africa. In Adjamé market it was nice to see the impact at firsthand.
A: We were both working while we were in Abidjan, London is in the same time zone as Abidjan, so that was very helpful for me. Every time we went to pick up fabric from Adjamé market, we were always met by loads of strong female characters, and our attention was always diverted to them. You could really feel that they ran the show, they were simply amazing, warm, and welcoming. We spent a few days in Adjamé market, and while there we decided to do the photo series, capturing the women that we met and connected with.
What drew you to Adjamé market?
E: Fabric searching for my collection.
A: Ellen's love for fabric.
What is the significance of the name of your photo series?
A: The series is called “Where there is a woman, there is magic." It’s a quote by the late playwright & poet Ntozake Shange. It's a quote that really captures our views when it comes to the women we came across in the market, city, and just generally.
How would you describe Abidjan to someone who has never been there?
E: Abidjan is the New York of Africa everything is possible, you can do all the big city things but also that wholesomeness chilling by the beach life.
A: Beautiful, lively, and has an awesome creative scene.
What is the best thing you had eaten, seen, or experienced during the trip?
E: The best food is their traditional food. Grilled fish with acheke and alloco!
A: We had a friend who knew a lot of hidden gems in the city, He took us to this beautiful freshwater lake, swimming in that was pretty dope.