Will I live

By Damian Lentini for Vernon Ah Kee

Will I Live presents the work of Vernon Ah Kee, one of Australia’s most significant living contemporary artists. Interrogating the signs of contemporary culture through the prism of a distinctly urban indigenous experience, Ah Kee’s work explores the subtle, but clearly political, implications of text and language; probing the manner in which rhetoric and cultural symbolism are adapted and recirculated in order to reinforce existing processes of marginalisation.

However, far from exclusively critiquing race relations within colonial-settler nations such as Australia, this exhibition of Ah Kee’s work at the Apartment der Kunst in Munich will reveal the universality of his culture-jamming tactics. Seen within the context of a city that is at the very epicentre of Europe’s migrant “crisis” – the result of wars provoked by two centuries of colonialism – Ah Kee’s textural interrogations highlights how the rhetorics of race and culture which circulates through the media landscape of Euro-America are conspicuous in their lack of voices of the very people to whom they pass judgement. By appropriating and inverting the language and aesthetics of contemporary text-based media, Ah Kee’s work serves as a timely reminder of the nascent anxieties which continue to plague society’s “intimate proximity” to its “other”, defamiliarising the discourse at the very point of its annunciation.

Vernon Ah Kee was born in 1967 in Innisfail, North Queensland, and comes from a mixed heritage that includes the Kuku Yalanji, Waanji, Yidinji and Guugu Yimithirr peoples. A member of the group proppaNOW in Brisbane, which he founded alongside fellow “Urban Aboriginal” artists Richard Bell, Jennifer Herd and Joshua Herd, Ah Kee’s work has been exhibited throughout the world; most notably at first Indigenous Art Triennial (2007); the Biennale of Sydney (2008); the Istanbul Biennial (2015); and the 53rd Biennale di Venezia (2009).