Destiny is a major new NGV Australia exhibition celebrating the career of contemporary artist Destiny Deacon. Her largest retrospective to date – and first solo show in around 15 years – is powerful, nostalgic, dark … and even a bit absurd.
It features more than 100 artworks – spanning photography, video, sculpture and installation – created over a 30-year period. A number of the pieces came to life with the help of long-time collaborator Virginia Fraser, an artist, editor, curator and writer.
A yellow-brick road is one of the first things you see, foreshadowing the photo series – Oz Games – Under the spell of the tall poppies – that lies ahead. Created before the Sydney 2000 Olympics, it depicts Dorothy as a black dolly with dainty, sequinned red booties.
Deacon is a descendant of the Kuku and Erub/Mer people from Far North Queensland and the Torres Strait. But she’s also “a proud Melbourne girl”, and it shows through in her work. There’s the gaping Luna Park mouth in Whitey’s Watching, while the Moomba Princess and Moomba Princeling show Deacon’s niece and nephew dressed up in Tudor-style regalia in the City of Melbourne’s Art and Heritage Collection storeroom. Melbourne Noir is a room dedicated to blak life in urban Melbourne, complete with photographs, projections and digitally printed wallpaper.
Deacon studied education and politics before becoming a teacher and then a staff trainer for Aboriginal activist Charles Perkins. In this show, it's clear her turn to photography wasn’t a breakaway from these experiences, but a continuation of them.
Dollies and golliwogs – racist dolls that depict dark-skinned characters – are among Deacon’s most-used subjects. And it’s a reclamation of sorts. At times they appear blindfolded, hooded or with their heads severed from their bodies, such as in Melancholy. They’re also included in a lounge-room installation housing Deacon’s own collection of “Koori kitsch”.
Particularly mesmerising is the Dolly Lips photo series. Racist stereotypes are visible in the most minute details of these crassly painted, plastic lips. Darker-skinned dollies are given fuller lips. Lighter-skinned dollies are given thinner lips. And the extreme close-ups make Deacon’s message even clearer.
*Destiny *runs until February 14 at NGV Australia’s Ian Potter Centre in Federation Square. It’s open 10am to 5pm daily and entry is free, but bookings are required.