Vernon Ah Kee was born in Innisfail, Queensland in Australia in 1967. He was always interested in art and he received a Bachelor of Visual Arts at the Queensland College of Art and he is currently working on his Doctorate degree. He lives in Brisbane, and it is there he works as an artist
I would be away for Vernon's art exhibit at the MacKenzie Art Gallery, titled "Blow Your House In", opening on September 12th. We did have the opportunity to discuss his upcoming work during his tenure as artist-in-residence. His large-scale portraits are representations of his family members and it is his method of describing the circumstance of the Aboriginal person in Australia today. He said the extreme racism and contempt that has been historically exhibited toward his people still exists today.
I watched Vernon work at his drawings - portraitures in a series - of persons whose eyes, or mouth, or whole person is omitted from the drawing which suggests that they are denied the opportunity to see, speak or exert much personal power into the world they are born. One large-scale portrait of his grandfather provides the viewer with a sense of his wisdom and stoicism. His grandfather was photographed in 1938 at Palm Island which was effectively a holding place for segregating Aboriginal people. It was this photograph among others taken during this time that inspired his work with portrait drawing.
Vernon told me that he used the analogy of the traditional children's story "The Three Little Pigs" to explain both the name of his upcoming exhibition at the MacKenzie Art Gallery and the obvious analogy embedded in the version told in the dominant white society. The Wolf is cast as the villain and the three little pigs as the victims, although one more prudent than the other two. The obvious message of the story is that you should build solid brick houses which would be the ones that the white population in Australia own. The traditional huts or other living accommodations of the Australian Aboriginal were judged to be inferior dictated in part by the outcome of the story.
Vernon questioned whether the Wolf might really have been warning the three pigs about a great storm and that they should seek safety. He also pointed out that the black color of the Wolf is assumed to be the color of the villain, while the Three Little Pigs was assumed to be good. This sort of cultural color bias is then extended to persons of color, such as the Aboriginal, by the dominant white population. It is a word-meaning association that contributes to further meaning association that contributes to further racial stereotypes.
But he raised other questions like whether the wolf was really a villain or were the pigs more destructive, or are both being used to create a myth - a myth that is loaded with cultural and racial bias. I think it is a great concept - "blowing in the stereotypes" that are created by popular children's stories.
These same myths are transferable to the Aboriginal people in Canada, and North America and are part of their history and modern circumstance. Vernon's art and experience in Regina continues to open up the debate for a clearer understanding of myths that surround modern Aboriginal life and art in all its complexity.