Vernon Ah Kee
'wegrewhere #3', 2009
“Fill Me”, Vinyl lettering, 2009. Image courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane
"Tall Man”, Charcoal, crayon and acrylic on linen, 2011. Image courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane
"Australia thinks of itself as a good country," Ah Kee says. "Its treatment of immigrants, of people of difference - different language, different colour - should demonstrate emphatically that Australia is not a good country, to the point where it's actually quite a nasty country."
In Ah Kee's sights are the narrow ideas of what it means to be an Aborigine and the limiting affect this then has on Aborigines' place within contemporary Australian society.
"Even when you do find positive representations, they're often very benign and they're not mostly harmless, they're completely harmless - politically, emotionally, economically," he says.
"There are lots of people who would think they are familiar with Aboriginal life, the vagaries of Aboriginal life but [their view is] widely inaccurate and very narrow still, 'cause people apply their own sensibilities to things they don't understand.
"[In my art] I'm talking about the modern idea of contemporary life for Aboriginal people." (Source: The Sydney Morning Herald)
About Vernon Ah Kee
'Vernon Ah Kee’s “Tall Man” is a smartly composed yet painful examination of race relations in Australia. The exhibition takes as its theme the subject of the 2004 Palm Island riots that occurred in the wake of Indigenous Australian Cameron Doomadgee’s murder at the hands of a white police officer, Chris Hurley. Anchoring the show was tall man (2010), a four-channel video installation, which was accompanied by a drawn portrait of Lex Wotton (the man convicted of inciting the riots), and a textcovered piece of linen titled fill me (2009).'
'The installation tall man asks questions, questions that compel. What of Lex Wotton? And why don’t we talk about Palm Island?'
In his four-channel video installation, Tall Man (a reference to Aboriginal Shire Councillor Lex Wotton’s commitment to the rights of Palm Islanders), Ah Kee appropriates footages from mobile phones and camcorders, edited together with archival news footages to reconstruct the unfolding of events – footages that were ironically used in court as evidence to convict Wotton of inciting the Palm Island riot. But in the hands of Ah Kee, they tell a different story of the injustices faced by the Aboriginal community in Australia. In contrast to the video installation where Wotton is seen enraged and devastated in public, Ah Kee depicts Wotton with subtle and gentle lines – a non-threatening, calm and warm-hearted figure.
“Tall Man”, Four-channel video installation, 2010. Image courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane
If I was white
Ah Kee’s 1999 debut solo exhibition ifiwaswhite loudly declared the artist’s polemic: to challenge racism in Australia by drawing attention to the unquestioned normativeness of whiteness. Some of the propositions were: ‘If I was white I could buy a bandaid the colour of my own skin. If I was white I could identify with the characters on Neighbours.’ By turning the tables on his audiences and switching the subjective positions between the viewer and viewed, Ah Kee seeks to make the ‘coloniser’ feel colonised. (Source)
Learning about Vernon Ah Kee and ProppaNOW in depth
This story of ProppaNOW reveals what motivates and inspires each of the seven artists and highlights how they support each other within the collective and their work and how ProppaNOW the collective contributes to the Indigenous art movement.
Article about Vernon Ah Kee, Sovereign Warrior, by Garry Jones.
Drawing is something that we do. As Aboriginal people, as Blackfellas, drawing is something we all do. For proppaNOW, it is an action, a tool, and a mechanism that we use to communicate our feelings and ideas and it is the beginning of our art-making processes. It is a human trait to recognise or sense the personal in drawing. engaging in and with drawing is to acknowledge the uniqueness we each possess as people and as individuals. But spending time with these works is really a window into how we, as a group of artists interact and engage with each other. As proppaNOW, Jus’ Drawn is about the energy, easy dialogue, and enthusiasm that our friendships and familiarity with each other generates. Jus’ Drawn is then an idea of who we are, where our ideas are drawn from, where we position ourselves in the scope of what we think is ‘Australia’. Jus’ Drawn is what we do and how we imagine ourselves. Vernon Ah Kee, proppaNOW, 2010