Questioning Australia's past and present - Vernon Ah Kee

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Media Release: September, 2010. 

Vernon Ah Kee brings challenging exhibition to the Deane Gallery.

City Gallery Wellington is excited to announce the first exhibition in New Zealand of Brisbane-based artist Vernon Ah Kee. Ah Kee will show a range of his recent work in a solo show in the Deane Gallery from 25 September to 14 November 2010.

Vernon Ah Kee was born in North Queensland and is of Aboriginal Australian descent (Kuku Yalandji, Waanji, Yidindji, and Gugu Yimithirr). His artwork inserts a much-needed indigenous Australian voice into contemporary art and questions the optimistic rhetoric of ‘multiculturalism’ in post-colonial Australia.

Ah Kee’s exhibition in the Deane Gallery brings together a selection of his recent work, including text works, sculpture, drawings and the video work CantChant (2007).

Ah Kee is most well known for his large-scale drawings of Aboriginal subjects. These sketchily rendered portraits re-present the work of Norman Tindale, a colonial photographer who photographed hundreds of Aborigines living in custody in Australia between 1920 and 1960. Photographed as de-humanised subjects, Tindale failed to give these figures even their names as identification; instead they were tagged simply with serial numbers.

Whilst Tindale was working to capture a race supposedly dying out, in Ah Kee’s portraits these subjects are undeniably present through the artist’s large-scale drawing format and their calmly confrontational gazes directed at the viewer.

Vernon Ah Kee appears in the Deane Gallery alongside roundabout˚, the expansive exhibition in City Gallery’s main exhibition spaces. Ah Kee’s work resonates with many of the concerns raised by roundabout˚—the place of indigenous artists in the contemporary art world and the role of art in challenging conventional assumptions of nationalism and identity.

As part of roundabout˚’s opening weekend of events and talks, Ah Kee will give a presentation about his work in the Adam Auditorium, City Gallery Wellington, 2pm Sunday 26 September.

Vernon Ah Kee

Deane Gallery, City Gallery Wellington

25 September–14 November 2010