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Vale Destiny Deacon

Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that this article contains the image and name of a person who has died.

Creative Australia is saddened by the passing of KuKu, Erub and Mer artist, broadcaster, and political activist Destiny Deacon and recognises her profoundly important contribution to First Nations arts and culture though photography, film, sculpture, performance and installation.

Destiny Deacon was born in 1957 in Maryborough, Queensland. Since the 1990s her work was primarily involved with performative photography, exploring Indigenous identity with provocative and humorous imagery that mocked and satirised clichéd and racist stereotypes, often with her collaborator, the late Virginia Fraser.

Partly autobiographical and partly fictitious, Deacon’s work is intensely disturbing and disarmingly comedic with domestic scenarios that tell tales of dispossession and alienation featuring her trademark black dolls and Aboriginalia or vast collection of Koorie kitsch. In 1991, she staged an exhibition Blak lik me using the term “blak” as an act of defiance, taking the “c” our of black and reclaiming the term.

Destiny Deacon at retrospective of her work, NGV. Photo: National Gallery of Victoria

Deacon completed a Bachelor of Arts (politics), 1979, University of Melbourne; Diploma of Education, 1981, Latrobe University and in 2019, she was awarded Doctor of Education (honoris causa) from Latrobe University. In 2018, Deacon was awarded the Yalingwa Fellowship and in 2009 she received Visual Artist of the Year, The Deadlys, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Award. In 2010, she was Director of the Salzburg International Summer Academy of Fine Arts.

Deacon’s work has been displayed around the world, including in the Australian Embassy in Paris, and in 2020 the National Gallery of Victoria presented a major solo exhibition DESTINY accompanied by a substantial publication. In 2004, the monographic solo exhibition Destiny Deacon: Walk & don’t look was presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney and toured to Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Japan; Tjibaou Cultural Center, New Caledonia; Adam Art Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand; and Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne.

Deacon participated in numerous international biennales and festivals and is currently exhibiting as part of the Biennale of Sydney at the White Bay Power Station. Highlights from her biennale exhibitions include the 2023 Sharjah Biennale, Dong Gang International Photo Festival, Korea, 2014; Havana Biennial, Cuba, 2009 and 1994; documenta 11, curated by Okwui Enwezor, Kassel, Germany 2002; Yokohama Triennale, curated by Akira Tatehata, Japan, 2001; Biennale of Sydney, 2000 and 2024; Johannesburg Biennale, South Africa, 1995. She also exhibited in internationally renowned museums such as Castello di Rivoli, Turin; Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw; Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius; Hotel de Ville, Paris; Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade; Arhus, Denmark; Whitechapel, London; Sammlung Essl, Austria; Neuer Berliner Kunsterverein, Berlin, amongst others.

In addition, she exhibited in TarraWarra Biennial 2014; National Indigenous Art Triennial, National Gallery of Australia, 2007; Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2000; Melbourne International Biennial, 1999; Asia Pacific Triennial, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, 1996.

In 2022 Destiny Deacon received the Red Ochre Award from what was then the Australia Council for the Arts, one of the most prestigious First Nations arts awards in the country. The award honours eminent First Nations artists who have made outstanding lifelong contributions to the recognition of First Nations arts in Australia and around the world and showcases artists whose work acts as an inspiration to other First Nations artists.

Executive Director First Nations Arts and Culture Franchesca Cubillo said:  

“Destiny Deacon was a trailblazer whose artistic vision brought light to the complexity and richness of First Nations identity and culture. Her ability to blend humour with profound messages made her art accessible and impactful to diverse audiences and served as testament to the strength and resilience of First Nations culture. We wish to extend our deepest sympathies to her family, friends, colleagues, and community. Her legacy will continue to inspire and guide future generations.” 

Destiny Deacon
1957 – 2024