Dylan Mooney’s astoundingly intimate, beautiful scenes


Dylan Mooney’s work unapologetically centres queer desire. In bold colours, the Yuwi, Torres Strait and South Sea Islander artist depicts the love between queer Indigenous people, bringing out the joy and solidarity that is the cornerstone of his community. “The works are about lived experiences and the love we have for one another, showing our thriving resilience and survival, growing through all these obstacles and hurdles,” he says.

Born and raised in Mackay and now based in Brisbane, Mooney became interested in art as a teenager. His skills developed through taking art lessons, where he learned how to use charcoals and draw portraits, the latter of which is now his focus. Studying Indigenous art at university brought him further into his current practice. “That really helped me, just finding out more about queer identity and my culture,” he says. “Moving to Brisbane has really helped me connect with a lot of mob and other queer Indigenous folk.”

Mooney works primarily with digital illustration, incorporating elements of traditional Indigenous culture into his own distinctive style. “I’ve never done traditional art—when I did start making work, it’s always been of people,” he says. “I’m trying to create a style for myself—something that people can clearly see that it is Indigenous work as well, when I add text or put ochre on the work.”

Dylan Mooney, Stuck on You, 2020. Image courtesy of the artist.

Mooney was the youngest artist to be included in the National Gallery of Victoria’s (NGV) major 2022 exhibition exhibition Queer. It featured his striking work Stuck on You, which depicts two Indigenous men embracing, backdropped by a brilliant moon. There’s a raw emotion that emanates from Mooney’s portraits, shown in Stuck on You by the two men making direct eye contact with the viewer. It’s a beautiful defiance; an unwavering statement of selfhood and pride. “It’s helped me be more confident with myself, especially in my art career,” he says of the NGV exhibition. “Before that body of work, I would have never had the courage or the confidence to actually create those types of works.”

The artist’s identity as a queer Indigenous man is central to his practice, exploring the places where these experiences intersect. “I’ve been doing a lot of research about Indigenous culture and queerness, and looking at my queerness from an Indigenous context,” he says. “It’s been around since the beginning of time—we have languages for it, and hearing my family talk about it as well. I’m trying to put those two relationships together, and decolonise that framework.”

Mooney’s new body of work, Still here and thriving at N.Smith Gallery, continues in this vein. Exhibiting as a part of Sydney World Pride 2023 (an amalgamation of the travelling World Pride event and Sydney’s iconic annual Mardi Gras festival), the show combines digital illustration with large-scale watercolours. “I first started art in drawing and watercolour, so I’m going back to my origins in a sense,” he explains. “A lot of people do know me by my digital work, so it’s showing the public that I can use these other mediums as well.”

For Still here and thriving, Mooney spoke to queer Indigenous people of different ages, gathering their stories and experiences to create a patchwork of lives in his portraits. He also incorporated his own story when developing the works. “I feel like having these personal stories added to the works gives that strong foundation and continues that truth-telling within an Indigenous context.”

Flags feature often in Mooney’s work. The Aboriginal flag is emblazoned on characters’ clothing, and in his new series, ribbons in the colours of different pride flags—the rainbow LGBT flag, the blue and pink trans flag—wrap around the figures. Mooney also takes an interest in nature—he was commissioned in 2021 to draw a botanical cover for Rolling Stone Australia, and plants are often featured in the background of his portraits. “I’ve been studying a lot of plants—just looking at books and doing my own research, and learning from other Indigenous people how we are connected to the landscape around us, and how plants have helped us sustain ourselves for thousands of years,” he says. “Incorporating these plants into my work, I just wanted to show continued culture and a continued connection to the land, but also to each other.”

Representation is the primary motivator for Mooney to create, celebrating shared experiences as well as differences in the queer Indigenous community. “I never grew up with representation in those queer spaces, so creating my own works has really helped,” he says. “I hope it’s helped other Indigenous queer people as well on their journeys, finding who they are.”

Still here and thriving
Dylan Mooney
N.Smith Gallery (as part of Sydney WorldPride)
8 February—4 March

This article was originally published in the January/February 2023 print edition of Art Guide Australia.

Feature Words by Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen