In 1997, as part of the freedom of information act, a document was released by the CIA entitled “A Study of Assassination”. The manual was released as part of a collection of CIA files relating to the 1954 Guatemalan Destabilization Programme. The programme aimed to overthrow the newly democratically elected leader of Guatemala, Colonel Jacobo Arbenz Guzman.
The program was lobbied for by the US global corporation The United Fruit Company. United Fruit owned one-fifth of the entire country and almost solely controlled the world sale of bananas at the time. The company pressured the CIA to intervene in Guatemala and overthrow Arbenz and install, in his place, a dictator who was more accommodating towards the company’s unethical operations. In June 1954, an offensive consisting of CIA trained mercenaries and aerial support overthrew Arbenz and instilled exiled military dictator Carlos Castillos Armas as a leader. The “Assassination Manual” is believed to have been created in order to “educate” the mercenaries in the “act of killing”. Meanwhile, in Europe and the US, United Fruit continued to mold the public perception of the banana as a healthy, fun loving and innocent fruit, through mass advertisement, music, and popular culture.
Selley’s project concerns itself with re-purposing the manuals use by adding imagery. By combining the manuals pages with archival press images of that time, United Fruit advertisement campaigns, and cold war propaganda, the meaning of the documents is transformed. Connotations commonly associated with the banana such as humor, sex, liberation, and the American Dream are juxtaposed with its sinister history of oppression, capitalist imperialism, and genocide – challenging our conceptions of the bananas symbolism. The document itself represents the bureaucracy of war, the everyday processes of a global intelligence agency – the banality of power.