The critical image: ethics and the art of Vernon Ah Kee

PhD Thesis


Castro, Jason John. 2017. The critical image: ethics and the art of Vernon Ah Kee. PhD Thesis Doctor of Philosophy. University of Southern Queensland. https://doi.org/10.26192/5c086a3dd8a8b
Title

The critical image: ethics and the art of Vernon Ah Kee

TypePhD Thesis
Authors
AuthorCastro, Jason John
SupervisorAkenson, David
Jenkins, Kyle
Pocock, Celmara
Institution of OriginUniversity of Southern Queensland
Qualification NameDoctor of Philosophy
Number of Pages145
Year2017
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.26192/5c086a3dd8a8b
Abstract

For Lithuanian philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas, the idea of totality and infinity is made possible due to the notion that the Other is irreducible to comprehension Levinas1996, p.6). The Other overflows any meaning that can be attributed and any attempt to reduce the subject to a concept is a form of ‘totalisation’. Levinas’s Other is ‘infinite’, in that the subject exceeds any concept that one can possibly designate (Levinas 1969, p.22). The Other is beyond my full understanding; I cannot comprehend the maximum extent of their complexities, subtleties, choices and freedom. I can only come ‘face to face’ with them, in dialogue. This thesis applies the concept of Levinas’s ‘face to face’ theory to the contemporary artwork of Australian Indigenous artist Vernon Ah Kee. I introduce the term ‘critical image’ to describe works of art that have criticality at their core and enter into dialogues that challenge contemporary thought. I ask, if Vernon Ah Kee’s images are ‘critical images’ what are they critical of? In response to this question, I examine the colonial context of Ah Kee’s work, including the role of anthropology in creating colonial identities for Indigenous Australians. Ah Kee’s artwork is discussed in relationship to Levinas’s key concepts of ‘responsibility’, ‘proximity’, ‘infinity’ and ‘totality’. Levinas’s theories, it is argued, are useful tools in examining Ah Kee’s work in that they provide an ethical framework for interactions with the Other, preserving their alterity, and confronting us in the way we see Other people.

This thesis utilises a post colonial methodology that incorporates art criticism and philosophical questioning. This study recontextualises colonial critique within the ethical framework of Levinas’s thought, not only reconsidering the usage of Levinas but repositioning Ah Kee’s work in this new context.

KeywordsEmmanuel Levinas; face to face theory; Vernon Ah Kee; Australian Indigenous artists; Indigenous art
ANZSRC Field of Research 2020360101. Art criticism
360602. Fine arts
Byline AffiliationsSchool of Arts and Communication
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https://research.usq.edu.au/item/q4vzz/the-critical-image-ethics-and-the-art-of-vernon-ah-kee

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