A survey of Vernon Ah Kee’s art showcases predominantly video as well as text-based works he has created over more than 20 years. The Island delves into Ah Kee’s hard-hitting critiques of Australia, with Campbelltown Arts Centre commissioning a new work which premieres in the show.
“He’s one of the artists who keep talking about the difficult truths that Australia is yet to face, both from a First Nations perspective but also when it comes to refugees,” says the Centre’s director, Michael Dagostino. “We’re not being honest with ourselves about how this country came to be in 2020 through a variety of exploitations.”
Born in Far North Queensland in 1967, the year Australians voted to change the Constitution to amend two sections that discriminated against Indigenous people, Ah Kee, now 52, has declared: “I was born a non-citizen.” A member of the Kuku Yalanji, Waanji, Yidinji and Gugu Yimithirr peoples, Ah Kee would spend hours drawing in his room. He spent his boyhood years in the small town of Innisfail and his teenage years in Cairns.
The civil-rights writings of Malcolm X and James Baldwin, the text art of Barbara Kruger, and the poetry and art of the late Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi activist Kevin Gilbert have all influenced Ah Kee. “Vernon gets very excited with fonts, and the layout of fonts,” says Dagostino.
There are ten Ah Kee works shown at Campbelltown, from early art to pieces never exhibited in New South Wales before. There are hopes to tour the show interstate. “It should be noted he’s never had a survey in his home state,” says Dagostino.