Vernon Ah Kee - About the exhibition and artist PDF Print E-mail

CantChant (2009), Vernon Ah Kee

The Beach encompasses a specific mindset in the Australian psyche. It is the ideal and the idealism in what the Beach means to the rhythms of everyday life for the people of this land that must be considered in every encounter with Beach, or indeed the Coast. It seems everyone, be it as near as the foreshore or as far off as the central deserts, is informed and shaped by their proximity to the Coast. What is clear in Australia is that the Beach not only possesses white sands, but it possesses White people. And it is White people, who in turn, would seek to possess it.

While it is Aboriginal people who truly embody the Beach, along with the whole of the ‘Australian’ land mass, it is White people in Australia who have established the Beach, particularly the East Coast, as a bastion of power and privilege; a territorial preserve for the White Australian ideal. And when it is threatened, as the 2005 race riots at Cronulla Beach definitively demonstrated, the base racism at the core of Australian society, at the core of Australian values, wheels into motion.

The reaction of former Australian Prime Minister (1996-2007) John Howard to the Cronulla riots – of inaction and silence – only served to support and encourage the violence and extreme racism of those few days where exclusion and hatred were given free reign; where the Australian Flag became a symbol of racial purity and power for White people, and where pre-existing processes of marginalisation and vilification were vehemently re-enforced for anyone not White.

Aboriginal people approach the Beach with the knowledge that any sense of belonging, Aboriginal or otherwise, is being continually assailed. This assault is borne by Aboriginal people wherever White Australia has determined a preserve for itself – the inner-city of any of the Country’s major centres, the main streets of any town, parks and other places of leisure. Certainly, there are many stretches of Beach and coastline where Aboriginal people may source a measure of comfort or solace, but these places only exist in the remotest regions or within those swathes of coastline that have escaped the attention of developers and urban sprawl.

The Surfboard and Surfing lifestyle have become synonymous with the Beach and Beach Culture in Australia. In CantChant, the use of shield boards and their association with Aboriginal men, embodied in the surfboard installation and in the video, is an exercise in reiteration – of identity and of social and political positioning. Equally clear is the all too real sense that the Black men, despite their colourful beach-branded apparel and flashy boards, do not fit.