Vernon Ah Kee
Born 1967 Innisfail, Queensland. Kuku Yalandji/Waanji/Yidindji/Gugu Yimiithirr people, Far North Queensland
Vernon Ah Kee’s images are part of a larger installation called Cant Chant that was shown at the 2009 Venice Biennale and has toured Australia. The installation involved large text works, surfboards printed with Yidinji shield designs and portraits of the artist’s family and three video works.
The work was created after the 2005 Cronulla riots. On December 11 thousands of people converged on the beach of Cronulla as racial tensions and disputes between beach going Middle Eastern Australians and white Australians flared. White Australian rioters chanted “we grew here, you flew here” as a means of claiming a greater entitlement to the beach and its surrounds. Ah Kee has used this chant as the title of the images to reference the ideology of white Australian beach culture and as a reference to his own heritage
We grew here, you flew here is an insincere statement and they were chanting it over and over again. It’s a way to exercise racism. I’m like ‘WE grew here, say what you want, but we’re the fellas that grew here’.
— Vernon Ah Kee
The images on exhibition at UTS (see images below), Wegrewhere #4, #2, #3 & #5 reference different aspects of the Cant Chant installation, one image (Wegrewhere #5) shows us the intricate large scale portrait of Ah Kee’s family member printed on a surfboard. The other three images are stills from the videos in the installation. When shown together, the videos tell a story of oppression to resilience. The first video is of a broken surfboard hanging from a tree with barbed wire being shot by a gun from off screen then tossed into a river (not shown). The second (Wegrewhere #2 & #4) is of Ah Kee’s family members wearing surf gear on a beach.
The third video (Wegrewhere #3) is of the Indigenous pro surfer Dale Richards riding the waves on one of Ah Kee’s specially made surfboards. As academic Aileen Moreton-Robinson eloquently says:
Suddenly a lone Aboriginal surfer appears on his shield-surfboard gracefully moving through the water, displaying his skill as he takes command of the waves. He is not out of place. He embodies the resilience of Aboriginal sovereignty, disrupting the iconography of the beach that represents all that is Australian within white popular culture. Ah Kee’s masterful use of irony and anomaly is like a stingray barb piercing the heart of white Australia
— Born in this Skin IMA, Brisbane 2009