January 18, 2012 — The Kluge-Ruhe Collection will open, "ill-like," an excerpt of works by contemporary Australian Aboriginal artist Vernon Ah Kee, on Jan. 24.
Ah Kee is recognized for his unapologetic explorations of the mistreatment of Aboriginal people. This exhibition is composed of imposing textual works, disappearing line drawings from a series titled "unwritten," and a new body of work the artist calls "lynchings" that will premiere in this exhibition.
An opening reception will be held Jan. 27 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Ah Kee's textworks, applied in vinyl directly on the wall, are poignant, witty or confrontational phrases in which the words and lines run together without spacing. These politically specific messages address various manifestations of the current and historical treatment of Aboriginal people in Australia, while the format references the language of mainstream media that often excludes Aboriginal voices.
The "unwritten" works are drawings of undeveloped heads or faces, and it is unclear whether they are beginning to appear, or beginning to disappear, from the lines that create them. Ah Kee explains:
They are primitive people becoming more human to the Western eye. And as that happens, white features are ascribed to them. … so these faces have high cheekbones and long noses … but they don't have eyes, nostrils, ears, mouths. They are people who haven't been recognized as human and, at the same time, are starting to have this white ideal applied to them, just enough to give shape to their faces. The work is about becoming.
The title of the exhibition "ill-like" is extracted from a textwork that reads: "the aborigine / if he be well / he then we must make ill / and if ill the aborigine / we cannot make / he then we must / make ill-like." With this statement Ah Kee suggests that white imperialist Australia pathologizes Aboriginal people and controls the public perception of aboriginal identity.
Ah Kee was born in Innisfail, Queensland, in 1967 and is a member of the Kuku Yalandji, Waanyi, Yidinjii and Gugu Timithirr peoples. He holds two bachelor of visual arts degrees and a doctorate of visual arts from the Queensland College of Art. His work has been exhibited widely in Australia and internationally, and he represented Australia at the 2009 Venice Biennale.
In 2009, the Institute of Modern Art published "borninthisskin," the first major publication devoted to Ah Kee's practice. His work is held in numerous public collections, including the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne; the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney and the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.
"ill-like" will be on view through May 10.