Vernon Ah Kee – consent (detail), 2003
Two summers ago, a teacher of mine lent me the movie Once Were Warriors. Directed by Lee Tamahori, it tells the story of an indigenous Maori family dealing with the harsh, violent realties of urban life in Auckland in the 1990s. The brutally honest portrayal in the film of life in marginalized areas of society calls to attention the inequality that remains at large in parts of New Zealand, Australia, and the American sub-continent.
Fine art, as is film, is a medium today used to tell the story of the magnificent and dynamic indigenous cultures that were present before Western colonization. And recently, I have had the opportunity to learn of three extremely talented artists from Australia:
Vernon Ah Kee
Vernon Ah Kee – war race, 2005
Born in North Queensland, Vernon Ah Kee is of the Kuku Yalandji, Waanji, Yidindji and Gugu Yimithirr peoples. He now lives and works in Brisbane, and holds a Bachelor of Visual Arts in Contemporary Australian Indigenous Art, an Honours in Fine Art, and is researching for his doctorate.
Ah Kee’s work is primarily a critique of Australian popular culture, specifically demonstrating the Black/White dichotomy. Some of his work concentrates on a conceptual use of text and minimal expression, combining a combative writing style with a strong visual sense through the juxtaposition of common words associated with identity and modern-day sociological dynamics.
He has exhibited in group and solo shows, and currently lectures on contemporary Australian Indigenous art at Queensland College of Arts, with interests including Aboriginal education, identity and art. He is represented by Bellas Gallery.
Rosella Namok – (top) Old houses, (bottom) New houses, 2005
Rosella Namok, a member of the Ungkum Aboriginal group, lives and works in one of the most remote and inaccessible areas of Australia and is a member of the Lockhart River Art Gang. She completed a Certificate of Visual Arts at the Tropical North Queensland Institute of TAFE in Cairns.
Namok’s work focuses on the two halves of society—’Kaapay and Kuyan’—existent for the Ungkum people. She paints with her fingers, a method derived from the sand drawing style taught to her by her grandmother. The motifs found in her paintings provide accessibility to a wide audience and serve as an introduction to the complexities and richness of her culture.
Her work was featured in ‘Beyond the Pale: Contemporary Indigenous Art, 2000 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art’ at the Art Gallery of South Australia in 2000. She has also exhibited in Brisbane, Cairns and Canberra. She was the 2000 recipient of the Lin Onus Youth Award at the Fifth National Indigenous Heritage Art Awards.
Richard Bell – E. Metaphysica Bell’s Theorem (Aboriginal Art It’s a White Thing), 2003
Born in Charleville into the Kamilaroi tribe and currently living in Brisbane, Richard Bell was a leader in the first group of urban Indigenous artists whose work provided a means of expression during the period leading up to the 1988 bi-centenary of white Australian settlement. During this time, Richard’s concentration was on ‘challenging non-Indigenous artists who appropriated Indigenous imagery in their work’ and the common notions of traditional and modern Indigenous art.
Today, Bell’s pieces utilize dot application, cross hatching and traditional hand stencils to examine ‘the historical treatment of Aboriginal people after European settlement’. His work addresses contemporary issues such as religion, art and politics, and responds to issues of oppression, frustration and discrimination. Notably, he also derives influence from American 20th century pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, and Bell uses the popular comic book style to illustrate the friction found on the Black/White divide.
His piece Scientia E. Metaphysica Bell’s Theorem (Aboriginal Art It’s a White Thing) earned him the 2003 Telstra National Aboriginal Arts Award.
Richard Bell – Masterpiece, 2003
Also: Another Australian Aboriginal artist greatly deserving recognition is Gordon Bennett.
Sarah Badr © MMVI