50 of Australia's Most Collectable Artists: Destiny Deacon - Art Collector

Issue 51, January - March 2010

This profile appeared in the "50 of Australia's Most Collectable Artists 2010" feature, part of the annual special issue "50 Things Collectors Need to Know 2010"

Since her first solo show Caste Offs at the Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney in 1993 there has been no slowing Destiny Deacon’s torpedo-like rise to fame. Still a comparatively young artist – she was born in 1957 – every exhibition she has held has continued to shock, shame and stun her audience. Shame because her witty but searing use of European kitsch, which subjugates real Aboriginal traditions and imagery, cuts to the bone of Australian racial history.

It’s a unique formula, one that hints at bleak humour, but one doesn’t laugh, one cringes at this heartfelt critique of white Australia.
In 2009 Deacon was included in the Clemenger Contemporary Art Award at the National Gallery of Victoria with a suite of particularly disturbing images. It was as though she had set herself the epic task of encapsulating all of the myriad issues of post-colonial Indigenous reality. With her trademark black dolls there were strong whiffs of white supremacy (Action Men), the issue of obesity (Ill Gotten Gains) and the sickeningly bizarre nature of racism in the sports – a black figure tossing its own head through a basketball hoop (Going for a Goal). Deacon was taking no prisoners.

In 2006 she was the subject of a major survey show in Tokyo, Destiny Deacon: Walk & don’t look blak, curated by Natalie King. Her international profile had already included participating in the Yokohama Triennale of Contemporary Art in 2001 and in Documenta 11 in Germany in 2002. Writing on her 2004 exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, Natalie King noted that: “Dolls are silent reminders of childhood, but Deacon gives voice to her dolls by communicating feelings … these dolls are decapitated, amputated or contorted, thereby becoming animated and expressive characters in Deacon’s psychodramas. In doing so, they confront prejudice and inequality in their inimitable way.”

In a conversation with Virginia Fraser published in the same catalogue, Fraser asked Deacon how calculated the irony and humour in her work was. “First I labour for an idea, one that usually ends up being sad or pathetic,” Deacon replied. “Then during the agony process of getting the image done, somehow things take a turn towards the ironic. Humour cuts deep. I like to think that there’s a laugh and a tear in each picture.”

Ashley Crawford

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