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

Castro, Jason John (2017) The critical image: ethics and the art of Vernon Ah Kee. [Thesis (PhD/Research)]

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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.

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Item Type: Thesis (PhD/Research)
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis.
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Current - Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts - School of Arts and Communication
Supervisors: Akenson, David; Jenkins, Kyle; Pocock, Celmara
Date Deposited: 04 Jul 2018 01:58
Last Modified: 05 Dec 2018 00:11
Uncontrolled Keywords: Emmanuel Levinas; face to face theory; Vernon Ah Kee; Australian Indigenous artists; Indigenous art
Fields of Research : 19 Studies in Creative Arts and Writing > 1901 Art Theory and Criticism > 190101 Art Criticism
19 Studies in Creative Arts and Writing > 1905 Visual Arts and Crafts > 190502 Fine Arts (incl. Sculpture and Painting)
Identification Number or DOI: doi:10.26192/5c086a3dd8a8b

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