Vernon Ah Kee The Island

Vernon Ah Kee (of the Kuku Yalandji, Waanji, Yidindji, Koko Berrin and Gugu Yimithirr peoples) is one of the most prominent and important contemporary artists practicing in Australia today. Often utilising tongue-in-cheek and wordplay, his practice ranges from large-scale renderings of his family members to multimedia installations with impacting text, sculptural elements, and moving image works.

From 2 January to 23 February 2020, Campbelltown Arts Centre (C-A-C) presented a major survey exhibition, The Island, examining the significant political impact of Ah Kee’s contemporary art practice. Spanning two decades, the exhibition profiled Ah Kee’s video practice, juxtaposing these pivotal works with corresponding drawing, vinyl graphics, and installation.

Testament to Ah Kee’s powerful, politically and socially-engaged contemporary artworks, this exhibition traces the trajectory of the artist’s practice from his early text-based works to significant recent video works such as The Island (2018). Building upon this impressive catalogue of works, Ah Kee expands on existing themes in a new video and installation work, kick the dust and scratch the surface (2019) respectively. Both works reflect on racially motivated violence in Australia and the disparity in justice, through a multi-channel video installation and a number of riot shields that are drawn upon with charcoal.


Born 1967 in Innisfail, North Queensland, Australia. Lives and works in Brisbane, Australia. Kuku Yalandji, Waanji, Yidinji, Koko Berrin and Gugu Yimithirr people.

Vernon Ah Kee’s conceptual text pieces, videos, photographs, and drawings form a critique of Australian culture from the perspective of the Aboriginal experience of contemporary life. Ah Kee’s works respond to the history of the romantic and exoticised portraiture of ‘primitives’, and effectively reposition the Aboriginal in Australia from an ‘othered thing’, anchored in museum and scientific records to a contemporary people inhabiting real and current spaces and time.

Ah Kee’s work has been exhibited in a number of significant national and international exhibitions, and is held in many notable private and public collections in Australia and overseas. Vernon Ah Kee was a key member in the establishment of Queensland’s leading Indigenous arts collective, proppaNOW.

> video:  Not a Willing Participant (2010), Documentary trailer by Alex Barmes

Not a Willing Participant – Documentary Trailer: Featuring Vernon Ah Kee from Alex Barnes on Vimeo.


Refugee and Indigenous Australian experiences drawn together in exhibition by artist Vernon Ah Kee – By Hannah Reich for The Art Show, ABC News
‘About 10 to 15 years ago, Brisbane artist Vernon Ah Kee started noticing similarities between the treatment of refugee asylum seekers and Aboriginal First Nations people in Australia.’ – Hannah Reich, The Art Show

‘Someone’s Got to Deal With That Fire:’ Vernon Ah Kee’s The Island – Article by Emma-Kate Wilson for MutualArt
‘In a conversation with the artist about his exhibition, Ah Kee likens the denial to “a fire burning behind your back,” but adds, “you can turn your back on it, but someone’s got to deal with that fire.”’ – Emma-Kate Wilson, MutualArt

THE ISLAND (PART 1)  – Review by Andrew Brooks for Running Dog
THE ISLAND (PART 2)  – Review by Andrew Brooks for Running Dog
A two part series extended review considering the exhibition Vernon Ah Kee – The Island.

Review: Vernon Ah Kee: The Island, Campbelltown Arts Centre (NSW) – Article by Gina Fairley for ArtsHub
‘A powerful survey exhibition of Aboriginal artist Vernon Ah Kee’s videos and wall texts, questions the frameworks of power and role of language in embedded racism.’ – Gina Fairley, ArtsHub

The Island – Preview by Steve Dow for Art Guide Australia
‘The Island delves into Ah Kee’s hard-hitting critiques of Australia, with Campbelltown Arts Centre commissioning a new work which premieres in the show.’ – Steve Dow, Art Guide

Vernon Ah Kee’s The Island – Article by Steve Dow for The Saturday Paper
‘The power of Vernon Ah Kee’s latest show, The Island, lies in its ability to spotlight the experiences of First Nations people and refugees as the antithesis of privileged white Australian culture.’ – Steve Dow, The Saturday Paper

Vernon Ah Kee: art should ask questions – Interview with Namila Benson on The Art Show
Namila Benson on The Art Show interviews Vernon Ah Kee, unpacking the questions within his practice that confront systems and structures in contemporary Australia from the perspective of his Aboriginal experience.

Deaths in custody: We’ve got to give it everything – Article by Lorena Allum in Artlink
There are also moments when art practice and digital journalism intersect, not to create “political art”, whatever that might be, but to deliberately repurpose the gallery as a space for the kind of reportage sorely missing in the mainstream media coverage of Aboriginal affairs. Vernon Ah Kee’s incendiary 2012 work ‘tall man’ claims this space…” – Lorena Allum, Artlink



Cairns Art Gallery, QLD
7 October – 4 December 2022

Perc Tucker Regional Gallery, Townsville, QLD
16 December 2022 – 12 February 2023

25 February – 15 May 2023

Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery, NSW
27 May – 23 July 2023

Caboolture Art Gallery, QLD
29 July – 17 September 2023

Lismore Regional Gallery, NSW
30 September – 26 November 2023

The Glasshouse Regional Gallery, Port Macquarie, NSW
9 December 2023 – 28 January 2024

Newcastle Art Gallery, NSW
24 February – 12 May 2024

Shepparton Art Museum, VIC
24 May – 2 September 2024

Bunjil Place, Narre Warren, VIC
4 September – 1 December 2024

Bega Valley Regional Gallery, NSW
14 December 2024 – 9 February 2025

Devonport Regional Gallery, TAS
February – May 2025

Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, NSW
31 May – 20 July 2025

Blue Mountains Cultural Centre, NSW
16 August – 5 October 2025


A Campbelltown Arts Centre exhibition presented nationally by Museums & Galleries of NSW. This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body.