Virginia Ryan is a visual artist, art therapist and gestalt counselor.

Born in Victoria Australia, she is presently based in Umbria, Italy.

As a child she lived with her family in Melbourne, Australia and Varese, Italy (66-68) before completing  schooling and tertiary education in Canberra. Dislocation was central to her life from childhood.

A graduate from the Australian National University School of Art and Design in Canberra, Australia (79) with a post~graduate degree in Art Therapy from Edinburgh, Scotland (94), over four decades she has consistently explored  painting, photography, sculpture and installation in collaboration with artists, anthropologists and musicians .

Ryan lived and worked with artists in Alexandria ,Egypt (1982 -1985), Curitiba, Brazil (1988-1990), during the breakup of the former Yugoslavia  in Serbia (1990-1992), Edinburgh, Scotland (1992-1995)  Accra, Ghana (2001-2007) , Abidjan and Grand Bassam in Ivory Coast. (2009-2017) .

 In 2004  with the late anthropologist/art historian Professor Joe Nkrumah she co-founded the Foundation for Contemporary Art  (FCA) in Ghana, becoming the first Director from 2004 until  2007. As part of her engagement with a new generation of Creatives in Africa, Ryan  facilitated connections  with practicing artists of FCA and New York University Students through her seminal programme Envisaging Accra, facilitating the  Meet The Artist  and the Art in the Garden recurring events whilst establishing the Art Library at the FCA centre at the Dubois Centre in Accra.

The Foundation celebrated the first decade of activity in 2014 ,recently renovated and updated the office and library, and will celebrate the 20th anniversary in Ghana in 2024.

Much of Ryan's research in the years since 2000 explores questions of identity, land and memory, resulting in large scale projects such as The Castaways Project and Exposures:A White Woman in West Africa with sound artist/anthropologist  Steven Feld.  

Her research often looks at displacements through migrations of objects and subsequent  transformations. The resulting imagery may incorporate material  'embodied memories' found in objects-trouvees to explore the poetics of the everyday. 

 Ryan's diverse multi-media practise, through lived experience navigates widely outside a Eurocentric gaze,establishing diverse engagements with artistic/community networks, through vastly interconnected art worlds .

In 2008, the city of Spoleto in Italy honoured her with an anthological survey at the Museum of Modern Art as an official event of the 51st International 'Festival of Two Worlds'. In the exhibition catalogue  Multiple Entries:Africa and Beyond art critic Achille Bonito Oliva observed:

''........The strategy of Virginia Ryan who states the right to her own imagery, fleeing the logic of dual extremism: globalisation or tribalisation. She adopts the tactics of cultural nomadism to escape the perverse consequence of a tribal identity. At the same time she claims symbolic production against the commodification of a now global economy. In this way she states the right to the diaspora, to multicultural, transnational and multimedia crossing. She thus eludes any logic of belonging through a fundamental choice which tends to deny the value of space, habitat and the respective surrounding anthropology, in favour of a value of time condensed in the form of the work.....

Virginia Ryan stoically and freely chooses the diaspora, that tragic historic fate suffered by many peoples in both East and West, In this sense the work acquires a Utopian value in the true sense of the word, the preference for a non-place, for a 'dematerialized elsewhere' that does not require permanence or definitive occupation. Painting, sculpture, photography, design and architecture interweave in the production of installations that can stand in any space, but without the risk of being totally integrated. The nomadism and eclecticism of style that supports the form helps the establishment of a gradual decomposition with respect to the spatial unity of the productive moment and the temporal unity of the moment of contemplation. Virginia Ryan's work acts like a blender that creates interaction between the various forms of language and dematerializes every traditional aesthetic category......''

In December 2013, leaving Abidjan, Ryan moved her African studio to the historic coastal city of Grand Bassam, a Unesco World Heritage Site in the Ivory Coast, where she sourced local material such as analogue photographs, pagne' dress fabrics and abandoned film posters for further large-scale projects. In collaboration with younger artists / studio assistants, she established the  N.G.O. Make Art Not War (active for two years) whose mission was to use creative means in peace-building and reconciliation after the years of civil conflict.

In December 2015 she closed her studio in Bassam and returned to her studio in Umbria, four months before the massacre on the local beach in Bassam (March 2016) where many people, including members of the art community, were to be wounded or lose their lives. This event profoundly affected her work at the time.

 In October 2016, Ryan founded an open art workshop with asylum seekers from West Africa in Trevi, her place of residence in Italy: ' MakeArtNotWalls/italia ' establishing a place for creative exploration intersecting art and art therapy. Ryan has co-curated exhibitions of the group's work in Italy and Edinburgh, Los Angeles and Paris, whilst remaining committed to her own  practice. 

Support has been strong for the project, crossing invisible boundaries to instill cultural and interpersonal awareness. :

She was nominated  'Accademica di Merito'  at the the  Accademia Pietro Vannucci  in Perugia (established 1573) in November 2018.

In late 2018 Ryan returned for two months to Victoria, her birth-place in Australia, to further continue the 'I Will Shield You' project developed in West Africa and Italy, thus intimately linking three continents; working intensely both in the Southern Grampians in the Balmoral Post Office Studio  and Off The Rails Dunkeld Artist residency ,where she returned in early 2020 during the Australian bushfires : an exploration of her birth country and the lessons that  land and people offer. In  2019  she was on site  in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Rome for the  #Atelier project  and was  invited to exhibit in the Oscar Niemeyer Museum in Brazil in the 14th Bienal of Curitiba, entitled Fronteiras Abertas.

Since 2008, she has shown in the Biennales of Malindi, Dakar, Venice and Curitiba, and in the first and second 'Biennale Alto' in the Dolomite region of Italy , at the first and Second Fibre Art Bienals in Spoleto Italy.

During Lockdown, having returnedto Italy due to Covid19, Ryan engaged  in the production of  intricate, time-based collage and mixed media works on handmade Italian rag papers from the nearby town of Bevagna : 'Drawing at its best is not what your eyes see but what our mind understands', and a large scale action with one hundred portraits of local women in collaboration with  JR_Inside Out Global Art Project.

In 2022  Ryan exhibited at the 3rd International Women's Art Biennale in the city of Trieste, Italy, curated by the Princess Gabriela Von Habsburg, invited by Luisa De Marinis and  opened a new Studio in the disused city bakery in Trevi Umbria (Studio Arteria, Via Zappelli 16) which can be visited on appointment.

In early 2023 in the nearby City Museum a permanent room was established to showcase the work completed with asylum seekers and refugees from the Make Art Not Walls association, founded by Ryan in 2016. This is open to the public throughout the year.

Presently she is continues her studio practice and the collective work with women migrants in Camini, Calabria, entitled FILOXENIA, and has just completed a new body of work in the International Tasara Art Retreat in Kerala, India

Her extensive international exhibiting experience can be found under both the Group exhibitions and Solo exhibitions in this website.


''The entanglement of the life of an artist and the history of the object itself  emains one of the great fetishes of modernism. As much as we may know of the peril of yoking the imagination and reality, constructing history has always been an act of provisional fiction. This artist, much as any "other", is simply unknowable or rather something in excess of what might ever be understood.Try as we might,  personal biographies contain slippages, blank spaces, historical trapdoors and, of course, counter narratives with their impervious layers of ambiguity.But what is at stake when the artist is aware of this construct, and sets about creating fictions as a means of writing a history of their own experience ;  each object indexing the story of a life laden with memories.  

Virginia Ryan has cultivated a practice of irreducible complexity, where her lived experience is deliberately, and often literally, entangled with a world of matter; pictures, stories, books, fabrics and personal possessions. Her objects often bloom where she is planted, taking form as often on the shores of the  former French colonial city of Grand Bassam, east of Abidjan, as in the central Italian town of Trevi, near Perugia where she now has her main studio.''

Osei Bonsu 2016

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