Vernon Ah Kee’s conceptual text pieces, videos, photographs and drawings are a critique of Australian popular culture from the perspective of the Aboriginal experience of contemporary life.
On Cockatoo Island for the 16th Biennale of Sydney (2008), Ah Kee exhibited 12 charcoal and pastel drawings on canvas that continue his series of portraits of his family. The focus of each subject is their ‘gaze’ – the way they look back at the viewer. Ah Kee’s drawings respond to the history of romantic and exoticised portraiture of ‘primitives’, and effectively reposition the Aboriginal in Australia from an ‘othered thing’ anchored in museum and scientific records to a contemporary people inhabiting real and current spaces and time. The drawings inhabit the space as an Aboriginal and ‘human’ presence. On gazing at the oversized portraits the viewer experiences a sense of discomfort, as the confrontational act of the stare, of facing an accuser, of exercising a right of reply, is strongly felt.