The Hanging: Vernon Ah Kee, Not An Animal Or A Plant

February 24th 2017

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Vernon Ah Kee, George Sibley (detail) 2008, acrylic, charcoal and crayon on canvas, 180 x 240 cm. Courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane 

Anyone who has walked past a crowd of staring people will know the familiar unease of being watched.

Yet there’s something about a direct gaze that asks for the respect of being returned. It’s here at the line between respect and unease that we experience Vernon Ah Kee’s not an animal or a plant.

The title recalls the time when Aboriginal people were seen as non-people, born not as autonomous individuals but as property of the government. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the census.

Not an animal or a plant is Vernon Ah Kee’s solo exhibition about his experience as an Indigenous Australian. Large-scale portraits of family members are drawn with all the power and resonance of someone standing in front of you. From the strong gaze that bears down on you with persistence and endurance, to the detailed drawing of a woman’s hair – as if caught in the wind – Vernon Ah Kee isn’t showing us sadness or frustration, but humanity and fierceness.

Alongside Ah Kee’s drawings and paintings, text-based works and installations verbalise racism – most notably in two black and white canvases that remember the Palm Island and Cronulla riots. Reminiscent of protest placards, bold black text is squashed together to read “palm island who let the dogs out” and “rush to judgement, Aust Racism”. Below these words, empty space symbolises the lack of resolution following these events.

This is protest art, sending a strong and resounding reminder that Ah Kee’s family history – and the experience that every Indigenous family in the country has endured – deserves to be recognised, respected and confronted. Staring face to face with Vernon Ah Kee’s family, it’s important that we don’t look away.

You can catch not an animal or a plant at National Art School until the 11th of March.

 

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WHAT: ‘not an animal or a plant’ by Vernon Ah Kee
WHO: Vernon Ah Kee
WHEN: 7 Jan – 11 March, 2017
WHERE: National Art School Gallery, Forbes St & Burton St, Darlinghurst
HOW MUCH: Free – more info here

 

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