Vernon Ah Kee Grandfather Gaze 2006 synthetic polymer paint, charcoal and conte crayon on canvas

Vernon Ah Kee

Born 1967 Innisfail, Queensland. Kuku Yalandji/Waanji/Yidindji/Gugu Yimiithirr people, Far North Queensland

Grandfather Gaze, 2006


Grandfather Gaze, rendered in charcoal, is one in a series of portraits by Vernon Ah Kee of his family members. The inspiration for this series came when Ah Kee accessed the resources of the South Australian Museum to view the Tindale Collection which included photographs of his family members, taken in 1938.

I sourced three images: one of my great grandmother, my great grandfather and of my grandfather. What became particular to me about the images themselves was the gaze, the gaze itself. – The Tindale Collection was put together by Norman Tindale out of the South Australian Museum, and he was basically sent out to catalogue the dying breed in the early part of the century so the images themselves, while they are represented as portraiture, the original source images are actually a scientific record and they shouldn’t be considered as anything other than that. I thought I would get these images and try to represent them as portraiture, but not just as portraiture but as Aboriginal people and contemporary Aboriginal people so the first two drawings were of my great grandfather and grandfather and the rest of the drawings are of my cousins and uncles. – Vernon Ah Kee

As a reference to the original ethnographic photographs made by Tindale, Ah Kee draws from photographic images, not sitting subjects. On viewing the historical works the artist noticed they were cropped to be head shots, much like mug shots and the subjects were registered by number rather than by name. The cold and inhumane nature of this practice, and the opinion that Aboriginal people were a dying race, led Ah Kee to direct the sitters to reflect on the experiences of their ancestors.

…when I am talking with my cousins about sitting for me and stuff,  I remind them that the mind set they have to develop for these images is a mind set of no pride and no courage, and that’s what you get, you end up with that gaze. – Vernon Ah Kee

Art historian Bruce Mclean writes,

Vernon is essentially reclaiming family from those archives, drawing the family in his own hand to personalise them and then taking that one step further again, drawing current family members – his children, to show that there is an unbroken lineage of Aboriginal people here in contemporary Australia