Iconic Australian artist Destiny Deacon passes

First Nations artist and activist leaves behind a lasting legacy.

Words: Erin Irwin

It has been announced that KuKu (Far North Queensland) and Erub/Mer (Torres Strait) artist Destiny Deacon, whose sharply penetrating photographic practice has complimented a commitment to tireless activism, has died aged 67. Sometimes humorous, always insightful, Deacon’s works have taken the Australian art world by storm for decades.

Born in Queensland, the artist grew up in Melbourne and achieved a Bachelor of Arts in politics from the University of Melbourne as well as a Diploma in teaching from La Trobe University. Deacon initially worked as a teacher and lecturer, before coming to art in the 1990s. Her practice was based on performative photography, using an array of kitsch props to develop discourses surrounding racism, stereotypes and colonialism.

Deacon’s triptych Blak lik mi, 1991-2003, represented a significant landmark in Australian culture, coining the term ‘blak’. Blak has since become an important linguistic tool to define and reclaim First Nations culture, transforming a historically negative term into a powerful statement of self-determination. National Aboriginal and Islanders Day Observance Committee Week (NAIDOC Week) is this year titled Keep The Fire Burning! Blak, Loud and Proud.

A small selection of the artist’s many solo exhibitions include Destiny – The art of Destiny Deacon, Australian Embassy in Paris, France, DESTINY, National Gallery of Victoria, Postcards from Mummy, Australian Centre for Photography, and Destiny Deacon: Walk and don’t look blak shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Wellington City Gallery, New Zealand, Tjibao Cultural Centre, New Caledonia, ADAM Art Gallery, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, Metropolitan Museum of Photography Tokyo, Japan, and Ian Potter Museum of Art at Melbourne University, Melbourne. Her works are held in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, and Queensland Art Gallery / Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, to name only a few. Her work was also featured in the recent edition of the Biennale of Sydney Ten Thousand Suns.

Sydney’s Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, which represented the artist, has said that “we have no doubt that Destiny’s legacy will continue to inspire and resonate with future generations, serving as a potent impetus for social change and collective healing”.

“Vale Destiny Deacon. Your sharp sense of humour, warmth and enduring spirit will be greatly missed”.

This article was posted 31 May 2024.

Image: Destiny Deacon, Over the fence, 2000. Lamda print from Polaroid original, 80 x 100cm. Courtesy: the artist’s estate and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney.

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