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Deacon, Destiny - 2002.7

Destiny Deacon

Meloncholy 2000
lamda digital print from Polaroid original
135.5 x 159 cm
Purchased 2002

It was 2004 and my first year at Monash University when I saw Destiny Deacon’s work. I was a young Yorta Yorta girl from Shepparton, who had made the big move to the city. I felt disconnected from home and who I was – everything familiar and safe was no longer close – but I was a sponge soaking up my new world. Destiny’s Meloncholy was the first work by an Indigenous artist that showed me the possibilities of Indigenous art beyond the dot and line. It exposed me to politics and ‘blak’ feminism; it was unsafe and broke free of the boundaries of what was expected of an Aboriginal aesthetic. Her work evoked the power of challenging everything that I knew and everything that I was being taught at a time when I was used to playing safe. I never knew anything else. The moment of standing in the gallery absorbing her work continues to be vivid – the black doll, the light skin of the watermelon, with its bright pink insides born of a black seed, and my feelings of connection to how that doll must have felt.

Contemporary Australian artist Destiny Deacon is a descendant of the Kuku peoples of Far North Queensland, and Erub/Mer peoples of the Torres Strait. Destiny studied politics at the University of Melbourne and gained a Diploma in Education from La Trobe University. She has been a key figure in Indigenous politics, education and contemporary art in Australia since the early 1990s.

Destiny’s work has been collected and exhibited extensively, both nationally and internationally, and her practice is recognised across the world, having been shown at significant art events such as documenta, the Yokohama Triennale, Havanna Biennale, Johannesburg Biennale, the Biennale of Sydney and Brisbane’s Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art. Working across various media, including photography, video, installation and performance, Destiny uses satire in imagery often in a suburban setting with herself, family and friends in the frame to subvert structures of power, racism and colonialism in the contemporary lived experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Destabilisation of the white gaze and the challenge to non-Indigenous concepts of Aboriginal ‘authenticity’ are themes often repeated through her work, deconstructing racist and uninformed notions of blackness and identity through humour and reference to kitsch ephemera and dolls (particularly black dolls, which have become synonymous with her work). Politically powerful, her work critiques the objectification of Indigenous people through misrepresentation and brings forth the legacies and trauma of the impact of invasion, the Stolen Generations and media perversion.

A black doll is featured in Meloncholy, its head removed and placed on the pink flesh of a watermelon, the body of the doll placed inside the hollowed-out skin of the fruit. What at first glance may look like a playful arrangement, both visually and through the title’s play on words, gives way to a discomforting vision of the decapitated doll and its placement on the pink flesh. Perhaps the photograph is a nod to the idea that ‘we all bleed red’ a myth of meritocracy that supposes that we have equal opportunities regardless of ethnicity or experiences of oppression because of the colour of our skin. It forgets how fractured and melancholic historical traumas may be.

The power of Destiny’s work is that it not only disrupts the (white) status quo but it also challenges the viewer to consider the power of representation and its influence on our social and political lives.

Kimberley Moulton is a Yorta Yorta curator and writer, and Senior Curator, South Eastern Aboriginal Collections, Museums Victoria, Melbourne.