IMA Media / Press Images

Media | Luke Willis Thompson, Maryam Jafri & Vernon Ah Kee

Exhibition Title:

Misadventure; Independence Day 1934–1975; Inaugural IMA Courtyard Commission

Exhibition Dates:

30 July - 8 October, Courtyard Commission 30 July - onwards

Exhibiting Artists:

Luke Willis Thompson, Maryam Jafri, Vernon Ah Kee

Curated By:

Aileen Burns and Johan Lundh

Luke Willis Thompson Sucu Mate / Born Dead, 2016 installation view: Hopkinson Mossman, Auckland Courtesy the artist and Hopkinson Mossman, Auckland

Luke Willis Thompson
Sucu Mate / Born Dead, 2016
installation view: Hopkinson Mossman, Auckland
Courtesy the artist and Hopkinson Mossman, Auckland

Maryam Jafri Sri Lanka – Ghana - Botswana 1948-1966, from the photo series Independence Day 1934-1975, (2009-present)

Maryam Jafri
Sri Lanka – Ghana – Botswana 1948-1966, from the photo series Independence Day 1934-1975, (2009-present)

Vernon Ah Kee  authors of devastation, 2016  320 x 240 cm acrylic on linen  installation view Griffith University Art Gallery Image courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery Brisbane

Vernon Ah Kee
authors of devastation, 2016
320 x 240 cm acrylic on linen
installation view Griffith University Art Gallery Image courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery Brisbane

Press Release:

Three artists, three groundbreaking projects at the IMA!

In late July the Institute of Modern Art will be transformed by the work of three leading contemporary artists in a series of ‘firsts’: we stage the first solo exhibitions in Australia by Luke Willis Thompson and Maryam Jafri; while Vernon Ah Kee will produce the first iteration of a new initiative, the IMA Courtyard Commission, creating a dynamic outdoor artwork.

Luke Willis Thompson is one of New Zealand’s most exciting young artists. He won the acclaimed Auckland Art Gallery’s Walters Prize in 2014, was included in QAGOMA’s APT8, and will take part in the 32nd São Paulo Art Biennial (2016). Pakistani-born Maryam Jafri is an artist who works across media and genres, and has exhibited extensively throughout Europe, North America and Asia. In 2015 Jafri was part of the Belgian Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale. Brisbane-based Indigenous artist Vernon Ah Kee’s internationally acclaimed practice spans video, photography, painting, printmaking and drawing. He represented Australia at the 2009 Venice Biennale in the group exhibition Once Removed, and in 2014 was included in the 14th Istanbul Biennale.

While varied in their approaches, all three artists address unequal power relationships, the politics of representation, and the legacies of colonisation within the Asia Pacific region. Each also redress ‘official’ narratives and overlooked communities, questioning what is remembered and what is forgotten in sanctioned records of the past through work that is symbolically or physically imbued with contentious histories.

Luke Willis Thompson: Misadventure

Shown across three galleries at the IMA, Luke Willis Thompson’s exhibition of conceptual sculpture and film binds together three projects that mark the first five years of the artist’s work. The exhibition as a whole is conceived as a time lapse rather than a retrospective, as all the works simultaneously mine an enduring colonial legacy that shapes our present, as well as the art we cherish within it.

Misadventure will include Thompson's first-ever film work, commissioned by the IMA, which precisely appropriates the technical specifications of Andy Warhol’s screen tests. This new work is at once a remake and a reconfiguration, introducing the politics of race largely absent from Warhol’s films; of the 472 individual Screen Tests Warhol produced, less than five featured people of colour. Thompson’s screen test brings race, violence, and grief to the fore by focussing on the descendants of victims of police brutality in London prior to the subsequent riots of 2011.

The exhibition also presents two major bodies of work featuring ready-made objects that confront social and racial traumas connected to colonisation in the Asia Pacific region. Untitled (2012) comprises three garage doors, custom metal stands, and an active security light and sensor. These everyday industrial objects bear visible traces of a grafitti act performed in 2008 by a Maori teenager, Pihema Cameron, which resulted in the pursuit and killing of Cameron by the owner of the property, a two-storey house with a double garage at its base.

Like Untitled (2012), Sucu Mate/Born Dead (2016) introduces objects into the gallery space that materially bear witness to complex histories. The work is made up of nine headstones that are on loan for two years from the Balawa Estate cemetery in Lautoka, Fiji. This cemetery contains the graves of colonial migrant labourers from India, China, and elsewhere in Asia, who were indentured to sugarcane plantations. The cemetery is segregated along racial and social hierarchies. Colonisers’ graves occupy the upper part of the graveyard, which is set on a hill. Indigenous people are buried in the central section—including the artist’s own grandmother—while migrant labourers are interred at the bottom in an area which floods heavily. Thompson worked with the Fiji museum and the minister of culture in Fiji, to obtain permission to excavate the remains of damaged headstones and to repair their sites of excavation. Sucu Mate/Born Dead brings attention to the complicated historical interrelationships between cultures in the Pacific region, and highlights broader histories of exploitation central to colonisation. It also attempts to speak to the speculative possibilities of Pacific epistemologies in an era of ecological change.

Maryam Jafri: Independence Day 1934–1975

In gallery one, adjacent to Thompson’s exhibition, fifty-seven photographs from Maryam Jafri’s project Independence Day 1934–1975 (2009–ongoing) form an installation that documents the first independence day ceremonies in former European colonies across Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, between 1934 and 1975.

Sourced by the artist from twenty-nine archives housed in countries such as Syria, Kenya, Senegal, India, Malaysia, the Phillipines, and Algeria, the photographs are arranged into a grid according to the characteristics of the ceremony, creating a sense of a repetitious ritual. Elements including the swearing in of a new leadership, the signing of relevant documents, the VIP parade, the stadium salute, the first address to the new nation, are all supervised and orchestrated by the departing colonial power. Thus despite disparate geographic and cultural contexts, striking similarities emerge through Jafri’s process of arrangement and juxtaposition.

The artist calls the project a ‘collection of collections’. Uniting conceptual art and cultural anthropology, it exemplifies her research-based practice. On her time spent searching archives for Independence Day 1934–1975, she says, ‘some people have asked why I don't just go to Paris or London, but, whenever possible, I try to avoid the old imperial centres, and instead examine how a given Asian or African nation state is preserving the foundational images of its own coming into being’.*

Taken as a whole Independence Day 1934–1975 reveals a political model exported from Europe and in the process of being cloned throughout the world. Although a great deal of research has been done on both the colonial and the post-colonial eras, this project aims to introduce a third, surprisingly neglected element into the debate: that twenty-four-hour twilight period in-between, when a territory transforms into a nation-state.

Vernon Ah Kee: Inaugural IMA Courtyard Commission

A new initiative designed to activate the exterior space of the IMA, the inaugural IMA Courtyard Commission will run in parallel to our exhibition program, activating a public space in the heart of Fortitude Valley. This will be an ongoing commissioning platform, engaging with Australian and international artists to produce dynamic new work.

The first commission will be a monumental text-based work conceived by Vernon Ah Kee, which builds on the artist’s powerful use of language. Informed by propaganda posters and advertising imagery, these works use the direct effect of text whilst creating abstract shapes through a play with kerning and positioning. Ah Kee has stated, ‘text is immediate. If there's something you want to say - write it’ (borninthisskin, 2009).

Born in North Queensland, Ah Kee’s work is a constant and provocative investigation of race, ideology, and politics. For this work Ah Kee will create a text that addresses the cityscape on a scale that is unprecedented in the artist’s practice.


* Interviews with artists Luke Willis Thompson, Maryam Jafri, and Vernon Ah Kee; and IMA Directors and exhibition curators Aileen Burns and Johan Lundh available on request
** Selection of high res images available on request

Media Contact
Nadia Buick, Communications Officer, Institute of Modern Art | or 07 3252 5750


Luke Willis Thompson
Luke Willis Thompson's practice creates situations where volatile meanings are suggested through gesture and encounter. The artist circumscribes a range of social, historical and political narratives that disrupt conventional ideas of being and spectatorship. Described as instances of tragedy or trauma, Thompson's works confront the viewer with uneasy questions of ontology and the ideology of the public gaze. Working between collective imagination and material trace, the artist provokes incompatible ideas regarding actions and institutions. The winner of the 2014 Walter's Prize, New Zealand's most prestigious art award, Thompson's presented inthisholeonthisislandwhereiam, 2012, taking viewers by taxi to a home in Auckland's gentrified suburbs. Thompson has served residencies in Frankfurt and Cambodia, and exhibited extensively throughout New Zealand.

Maryam Jafri
Maryam Jafri is an artist working across media and genres, including video, sculpture, performance, and photography. Informed by a research based, interdisciplinary process, her artworks are often marked by a visual language poised between film and theater and a series of narrative experiments oscillating between script and document, fragment and whole. She holds a BA in English & American Literature from Brown University, an MA from NYU/Tisch School of The Arts and is a graduate of the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program. She lives and works in New York and Copenhagen.

Vernon Ah Kee
Vernon Ah Kee was born in Innisfail, Queensland, and is a member of the Yidindji, Kuku Yalandji, Waanji, Koko Berrin and Gugu Yimithirr peoples. Ah Kee represented Australia at the 2009 Venice Biennale and has participated in group exhibitions at Museum of Contemporary Art (Sydney, 2009); Biennale of Sydney (2008); Indigenous Triennale, National Gallery of Australia (2007 and 2012); Artspace (Sydney, 2012); Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern art (Brisbane, 2013) and Sakahàn: 1st International Quinquennial of New Indigenous Art, National Gallery of Canada (2013). Recent solo exhibitions include Barack, National Gallery of Victoria (Melbourne, 2011); Tall Man, Gertrude Contemporary (Melbourne, 2011); Hallmarks of the Hungry (2012) and Brutalities (2014) both at Milani Gallery, Brisbane. In 2015 he exhibited in the 14th Istanbul Biennale.


The IMA is supported by the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland, and from the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council for the Arts, and through the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy, an initiative of the Australian Federal, State, and Territory Governments. The IMA is a member of Contemporary Art Organisations Australia (CAOs).

Luke Willis Thompson’s exhibition is generously supported by Creative New Zealand.

Vernon Ah Kee’s Inaugural Courtyard Commission is supported through the Brisbane City Council’s Creative Sparks program, as part of the IMA’s Brisbane Currents initiative.


The Institute of Modern Art (IMA) has been the leading independent forum in Queensland, Australia, for the production, presentation, and circulation of contemporary art and discourse for forty years. Our innovative and diverse programs embed the international in the local and engage the local internationally.

The IMA is a non-collecting institution, presenting an ambitious program of exhibitions that concentrate on new commissions by Australian and international artists at pivotal points in their practices. The IMA has a longstanding commitment to research and a rich history of publishing artist monographs and critical readers, together with a vibrant program of events, workshops, and talks.

Institute of Modern Art
420 Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley, Brisbane
Tuesday–Saturday, 12–6pm, Thursday 12–8pm | 07 3252 5750



Further Info

Please contact our media department with any questions, or if you require any further information or images.