An exhibition of new works by Vernon Ah Kee, titled Invasion Paintings, is currently on display at Milani Gallery. Ah Kee is a contemporary Aboriginal artist based in Brisbane and his oeuvre, which ranges from realist drawings to post-conceptual text pieces, challenges the dominant narrative of Australian history by reframing it from an Aboriginal perspective.
In the first room of the exhibition there are four black-and-white paintings, titled Lynching #1, #2, #3 and #4 (2013) respectively. The paintings are studies of the human form composed in black acrylic lines on canvas. The figures in Ah Kee’s paintings are featureless – without eyes, or noses, or ears to distinguish them. These featureless figures seem to allude to the fact that prior to 1967 Aboriginal people were considered ‘subhuman’ by the Australian government. Two of the paintings, Lynching #1 and Lynching #3, show the subject’s head and torso in profile. In both of these paintings, the subject’s head is bowed as though an invisible noose has already been fastened. Ah Kee has used black horizontal lines, which wrap around the figure leaving striations. In Lynching #2 Ah Kee has created a work depicting the whole human figure. This painting shows the subject lying down, twitching in futile against the constricting lines. Lynching #4 depicts the head and torso of the subject with his head raised, as though resisting the invisible bonds. Here, Ah Kee has used more curvaceous lines to highlight the muscularity of the subject.
The second room of the exhibition contains a series of paintings, which Ah Kee produced in collaboration with his children, Michael and Annie Ah Kee. This is the third time Ah Kee has collaborated with his children (in 2008 he created Intervention Invention with his son, Michael, and in 2012 he collaborated with both of his children to produce a series of small canvases dealing with ‘invasion’ and ‘colonisation’). The paintings in this room are titled Invasion Painting #1, #2, #3 and #4 (2013) along with Invasion Paintings (2013). These paintings show an array of colours colliding together with giant robots and written phrases (such as ‘Ack! Ack! Ack!’) imposed over the kaleidoscopic backgrounds. According to the artist’s rationale, this series was informed by classic SciFi movies from the 1950s-80s and the paintings explore themes such as ‘fear’, ‘futility’ and ‘paranoia’ resulting from xenophobia within society.
By collaborating with his children, Ah Kee also draws attention to the notion of Aboriginal art as an exploitation industry. He presents the idea that the Invasion Painting series is more valuable when he presents it in a framework of language that describes it as Art, rather than when it is described as paintings produced by children.
Invasion Paintings is on exhibition until 21 December 2013 at Milani Gallery (54 Logan Road, Woolloongabba). On Saturday 14 December Vernon Ah Kee will be presenting a floor talk in the gallery space at 11am.
Image: Vernon Ah Kee, Lynching #4, 2013, acrylic on canvas, 150 x 90 cm. Courtesy of Milani Gallery.
Written by Rachael King