History of Art and Architecture

Marina Tyquiengco Colloquium

Wednesday, February 8, 2017 - 12:00pm

202 Frick Fine Arts Building

Blackfella Pride: Vernon Ah Kee's Drawings based on Photographs from the Norman Barnett Tindale Collection

Marina Tyquiengco

Panel one of Neither Courage Nor Pride by Vernon Ah Kee.

The contemporary artist Vernon Ah Kee began incorporating drawings based on his family’s photographs in 2004, recalling two small photographs his grandmother always kept in her pocketbook. Late in his life, he learned that these were not personal photographs, but instead her copies of 1938 photographs from Norman Barnett Tindale’s archive documenting Aboriginal peoples from around Australia. Tindale was an ethnologist who compiled a vast archive of photographs and notes documenting Aboriginal peoples, eventually creating a map of Aboriginal Australia and an accompanying catalogue.  In 2006, Ah Kee created two massive triptychs based on these Tindale photographs of his own relatives connecting them to pictures of his children, visibly linking past with future. He also incorporated text over the original number system repeating the word ‘blackfella’ in both works. These pieces highlight questions surrounding the ownership of ethnographic photographs, as well as Aboriginal pride, identity, and memory. I base my discussion of these pieces on concepts of Aboriginality offered by Indigenous scholars, such as Marcia Langton, to demonstrate how artists problematize the expectation that Aboriginality can be captured in fixed forms, and thus reveal the fluidity and adaptability of the concept and of its lived reality.