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  • May 27, 2024

Destiny Deacon, 1958–2024

DESTINY DEACON, Little Miss Wonder, 1995, color bubble jet print (printed 2022), 98.4 × 123 cm. Courtesy ACMI Melbourne. 

Pioneering First Nations artist and activist Destiny Deacon passed away at age 67, announced Sydney-based Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery on May 24. A descendent of the Kuku (Cape York) and Erub/Mer (Torres Strait) peoples, Deacon was known for using Indigenous-inspired kitsch to humorously reveal Aboriginal stereotypes and colonial legacies in Australia.

Deacon began to pursue artmaking in the late 1980s, integrating Aboriginal paraphernalia she had collected for years—from fake boomerangs to derogatory “mammy” and “golly” dolls—to reclaim racist signifiers. The artist’s early works mainly consisted of Polaroid photographs and VHS tapes of  “Koori Kitsch,” as in her series Waiting for Goddess (1994). Explaining why she photographed these items, Deacon told The Guardian in 2020: “That’s [the way] white Australia saw us: the flora, the fauna, and the objects. And I just thought, well, [those objects] have just as much to say.” One of her works, a triptych titled Blak lik mi (1991­–2003), is also credited with initiating the use of the word “Blak” in Australia. By omitting the letter c, it became a way of reclaiming the word and its meaning to self-determine the artist’s identity. 

Deacon also often featured family and friends in her work, such as in the comedic Homevideo (1987), with Goenpul poet Lisa Bellear and her younger brother Tommy Peterson. This work introduced her character “Delores,” the artist’s flamboyant alter ego who reappears in satirical films such as Welcome to my Koori world (1992) and I don’t want to be a bludger (1999), both of which were created alongside the late Wiradjuri/Kamilaroi photographer Michael Riley. Other notable portraits and collaborations feature Aboriginal artist Richard Bell and Australian performance artist Erin Hefferon.   

Deacon’s works have been exhibited in two major retrospectives: “Walk & don’t look blak” (2004–05) at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art and “DESTINY” (2020) at the National Gallery of Victoria—the latter of which showcased the largest collection of her work to date. Aside extensively presenting her works in Australia, Deacon also participated in international exhibitions such as at the Yokohama Triennale (2001), Documenta 11 (2002), the 10th Havana Biennal (2009), and the Sharjah Biennial 15 (2023). In 2022, she was awarded Australia’s Centenary medal, an honorary fellowship from the Royal Photographic Society in Britain and the First Nations Red Ochre Award. 

Camilla Alvarez-Chow is an editorial assistant at ArtAsiaPacific. 

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