Destiny Deacon awarded inaugural Yalingwa Fellowship


Renowned Indigenous artist Destiny Deacon has been awarded the inaugural $60,000 Yalingwa Fellowship. Open to mid-career and senior First Nations artists working in South East Australia, the Fellowship is part of the Yalingwa visual arts initiative – a six-year partnership between Creative Victoria, the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) and TarraWarra Museum of Art.

A descendent of the Kuku (far-North Queensland) and Erub/Mer (Torres Strait Islands) people, Deacon was awarded the Fellowship for her significant contributions to the Indigenous community and the field of contemporary art. Specifically designed to provide funds for career development, Deacon plans to use the Fellowship to make new work, spend time writing and explore publishing options for a book. 

Explaining her plans further Deacon says, “I want to create a picture book and exhibition (photography, video, installation) about my experiences growing up in Melbourne from 1959 onwards. Images and words sharing my activist history and knowledge, and depicting the people and objects of the times, will be expressed through impressions and scenarios filled with humour and sadness. My Fellowship research will entail getting back into these experiences with places and those who know these memories.”

As an artist working across the mediums of video, photography, installation and performance, Deacon creates complex visual depictions of race relations in Australia. Known for using Koori kitsch dolls and souvenirs to illustrate autobiographical and fictitious scenes, particularly through photography, Deacon was chosen from a pool of open-call expressions of interest by the Yalingwa Advisory Group. The group is comprised of representatives of the Indigenous community acting in consultation with the directors of ACCA and TarraWarra Museum of Art.

Destiny Deacon accepting the inaugural Yalingwa Fellowship at the ACCA opening on Friday 6th July, 2018. Photograph by Jacqui Shelton.

In a statement the Yalingwa Advisory Group said, “The decision to award the Yalingwa prize to Destiny Deacon recognises the vital role this important artist has played in changing the way the broader community understands and engages with Indigenous art. Destiny is a true trailblazer, inventing the terms ‘Blak’ and ‘Blakness’ in the 1990s, terms now used widely within the Indigenous and wider communities to describe contemporary Aboriginal identity and experience.” 

In addition to time spent as a teacher and broadcaster, Deacon started creating art in the 1990s. Throughout her 30-year artistic career, Deacon has been part of many significant exhibitions including Documenta 11 Kassel, 2002 and the major 2004 solo exhibition, Destiny Deacon: walk and don’t look blak at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art. 

Commenting on Deacon’s Yalingwa Fellowship and the important place she holds within the timeline of contemporary Australian art, ACCA artistic director and CEO Max Delany stated in a recent press release, “Destiny Deacon is a most fitting inaugural recipient of this prestigious and important new award. Her artistic practice is marked by a wicked yet comedic disposition, and her low-fi approach to art making, where friends, family and members of Melbourne’s Indigenous community appear in mischievous narratives, has amplified and deconstructed stereotypes of Indigenous identity and history.”

Launched in 2017, the Yalingwa visual arts initiative will award the Yalingwa Fellowship every two years.

The initiative also includes three curatorial positions and three exhibitions to be held biannually across ACCA and TarraWarra Museum of Art. 

The first Yalingwa exhibition, A Lightness of Spirit is a Measure of Happiness, has been curated by inaugural Yalingwa curator Hannah Presley and is showing at ACCA until mid September. Prior to her new role at ACCA, Presley recently worked as Tracey Moffatt’s curatorial assistant at the 2017 Venice Biennale and is ACCA’s first Indigenous curator in an ongoing position.

A Lightness of Spirit is a Measure of Happiness
Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA)
7 July – 16 September

News Words by Briony Downes