The Future Tense of Common Ground: Art by Emily Kngwarreye and Vernon Ah Kee

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The nature of any common ground of understanding between contemporary Indigenous artists and their trans-cultural audience remains contested within critical discourse. What are the terms of reference for meaningful communication and exchange beyond hegemonic parameters? This paper examines the work of two contemporary Australian Indigenous artists, both exhibitors at Venice Biennales, whose art strikes at the heart of cultural difference and the passage of meaning. Emily Kngwarreye [c.1910-1994] and Vernon Ah Kee [b.1967] represent two apparent poles of ‘traditional’ and ‘urban’ Australian Indigenous art, however this paper examines how both artists’ work are based on a signification blind spot that simultaneously withholds and anticipates meaningful communication.

The nature of this anticipatory or future focus of communication is analysed through deconstruction theory’s mode of deferred meaning in an ethical framework of cultural difference. Jacques Derrida’s strategy of duality in Politics of Friendship, that calls for “Two texts, two hands, two visions, two ways of listening. Together at once and separately.”, is used as the model for understanding how logic is confounded and forced to confront its blindness to difference within perception of Kngwarreye’s and Ah Kee’s art. Within this process of double readings, the certainty of meaning is deferred but meaning is also anticipated within the transformation the duality enacts.

Emily Kngwarreye was a traditional Elder of the Anmatyerr/Alywarr peoples of the Utopia district in Central Australia. She lived in a remote desert community and spoke little English, however during the last decades of her life the artist produced a vast output of acrylic canvas paintings of international acclaim. Her work was exhibited at the 1997 Venice Biennale. Vernon Ah Kee is a Brisbane-based artist of the Kuku Yalandji, Waanji, Yidindji and Gugu Yimithirr peoples of north Queensland who completed a Bachelor of Visual Arts (Honours) Degree at the Queensland College of Art and whose work will be exhibited at the 2009 Venice Biennale.


Keywords: Australian Indigenous Art, Crossculturalism, Deconstruction, Ethics
Stream: Arts Theory and Criticism
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Dr. Sally Butler

Senior Lecturer in Art History, School of English Media Studies & Art History, University of Queensland
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Dr Sally Butler is a Senior Lecturer in Art History at the University of Queensland and freelance curator/artswriter. Her research focus is contemporary Australian Indigenous art and cross-cultural critical theory. In 2007 Butler curated an international exhibition and wrote an accompanying book, called Our Way, Contemporary Aboriginal Art from Lockhart River [University of Queensland Press, 2007] that toured in Australia, Asia and the United States. Butler is currently one of the Editors of the Australia & New Zealand Journal of Art and a former Associate Editor of Australian Art Collector Magazine.

Ref: A09P0264