Immigration Museum has been transformed for new multi-sensory and multimedia exhibition Joy, which opened on March 1. Celebrating glee through vibrant designs and powerful storytelling, the exhibition features seven newly commissioned installations from Victorian-based artists.

The exhibition has been in development since 2022, with an original aim to celebrate colour. As the exhibition developed, it became clear that joy should be the focus instead, bringing with it a greater emotional depth beyond just aesthetics. However, a focus on colour was still integral to the artist selection process, according to the museum’s experience and interpretation manager, Rebecca Lal.

“What we were really looking for [were] artists who used colour in their practice and people who could offer a unique take on what joy is,” Lal says. “At Immigration Museum, we’re really interested in telling stories from many perspectives, so we went out to a wide range of people.

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“We’ve got a fashion designer, we’ve got illustrators, we’ve got poets, filmmakers, people who have many layers to their practice as well.”

Those artists have now taken over two floors of the Immigration Museum. Visitors are greeted on the ground floor by colourful large-scale cut-out artworks on the walls, created by Venezuelan-born Australian artist Nadia Hernández. As they make their way to the second floor, they’ll also see Joy Pops along the stairwell; the bright graphics and images have been contributed by members of the public.

On the second floor is the main exhibition space, featuring six more installations with interactive elements. A predicted favourite is queer artist Spencer Harrison’s Bring it to the Runway, Runway. Turning an ordinary hallway into a fully walkable catwalk, it’s decorated with colourful perspex shapes and a reflective floor, accompanied by a soundtrack to strut to.

“The way Spencer describes it is that it’s a joyful runway, where you can strut your stuff [and] everybody is celebrated,” says Lal. “It’s your moment to share your joy, celebrating who you are.”

Another memorable installation is pop artist and designer Callum Preston’s Video Land, a full-scale replica of a 1990s video store that explores the idea of joy through nostalgia. Visitors can look through shelves of real VHS tapes arranged according to film genre.

“As soon as anyone walks in there and has any experience of what a video store is, they’re going straight to the section they used to go to … saying, ‘this is my favourite movie’,” says Lal. “It’s quite a nostalgic space, but it’s one that people just connect with really easily.”

A much more abstract – but no less joyful – artwork is fashion designer Nixi Killick’s Joy Generator, an enormous, multisensory and tactile structure set within a colourful, otherworldly space.

“What she’s done is create this immersive room, in which she’s put extremely vibrant, highly patterned graphics all around the wall and on the floor,” says Lal. “And then in the middle of it she’s got this amazing column, which is called a joy generator. It’s like 2.7 metres tall, and it’s got all these layers on it – it’s got lights, it’s got LEDs, it’s got textural surfaces that you can touch, it’s got discs you can spin.”

Across other spaces, visitors can find Beci Orpin’s Bunny Dearest, a gigantic, stuffed toy bunny they can climb, celebrating the joy of childhood memories. Then there’s the work of Afghan-born, Adelaide-based visual artist and poet Elyas Alavi with Sher Ali; they’ve collaborated on large-scale murals with neon text, which tell the story of the Simurgh, a bird of Persian mythology.

Finally, Wiradjuri artist and poet Jazz Money has created Our Laughter Will Become the Waterfall. A comfortable, cushioned space, it invites visitors to gather and look upon a painted mural that references the waterfall that once flowed on the Birrarung Marr, while listening to a soundscape of laughter and singing.

Ultimately, Lal hopes the exhibition isn’t only an exploration of joy but also a source of it – one that unites visitors through shared experiences.

“Joy is a way to bring us together,” she says. “And with the exhibition, we’re hoping to inject that sense of community and connectedness into people’s lives. You know, cultivating joy at the moment, when we’re all living in this world where there is a lot of conflict and divisiveness and many everyday challenges.

“We want them to understand that there is positivity in the world, and that we’re all capable of playing a part in bringing that about.”

Broadsheet is a proud media partner of Museums Victoria. Joy is open at the Immigration Museum until August 29, 2025.