The world, especially the urban Blak art world, has recently lost one of its few really witty visual satirists, Destiny Deacon. 2022 Red Ochre winner and subject of a major retrospective at the National Gallery of Victoria in 2020 – simply entitled Destiny – she emerged from a large K’ua K’ua, Erub/Mer and Irish family via Indigenous politics in Melbourne and Canberra.

As her first commercial gallerist, Roslyn Oxley put it in publicising her passing, “Destiny’s work, known for its witty and incisive exploration of Indigenous identity, political activism, and cultural resilience, has left an indelible mark on the Australian art landscape and beyond”.

But Destiny herself pointed out in the RO9 gallery’s recent celebration volume, The First 40 Years, she’d already appeared in the Sydney, Johannesburg and Havana Biennales, and the Asia Pacific and Yokohama Triennials before anyone saw any commercial potential in her mostly photographic work – often made with her collaborator and partner, the late Virginia Fraser.

For example, ‘Tyerabarrbowaryaou II : I shall never become a white man’ was curated by Fiona Foley and Djon Mundine for Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art in 1992. It was the first exhibition of contemporary Aboriginal art to be commissioned by the MCA and included other prominent urban artists such as Ron Hurley and Robert Campbell Jnr. It eventually toured throughout eastern Australia and went on to the Havana Biennale

Partly autobiographical and partly fictitious, Deacon’s work is both disturbing and disarmingly comedic, with domestic scenarios that tell tales of dispossession and alienation featuring her trademark black dolls and Aboriginalia, or her vast collection of Koorie kitsch. In 1991, she featured the triptych Blak lik me, introducing the word “blak” as an act of defiance, taking the “c” out of it and claiming the term as a political identity rather than a skin colour.

Born in 1957 in Maryborough, Queensland, Deacon’s siblings include Clinton Nain, a renowned visual artist, dancer, performer and storyteller, and writer, performer and broadcaster John Harding. Their mother was Eleanor Deacon, a role model and political activist who also brought up 7 children in Melbourne’s Fitzroy, leading to Destiny to leave teaching to follow her passion for politics to became one of ‘Charlie’s Angels’, working for Aboriginal activist Charlie Perkins as a staff trainer in Canberra, before beginning her photographic career in 1990.

Tired of white photographers’ limited depictions of Aborigines, Deacon’s exhibition career quickly gained momentum. She held her first show, ‘Pitcha Mi Koori’, as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, and in 1991, her work was included in ‘Aboriginal Women’s Exhibition’, curated by Hetti Perkins at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney. Her work Tax free kangaroos, included in the 1991 exhibition ‘Kudjeris’ at Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Cooperative, saw her first use of her use of dolls and souvenir toys as subject matter. Throughout her work, Deacon focused primarily on people, interchanging portraits of friends and relatives with inanimate dolls to invert the colonial gaze and to upturn the image of the Aboriginal figure as an object of curiosity. Deacon describes her work as “being about (re)creating a world of my own outside my own world.”

By 2004, Deacon’s work was featured in a solo exhibition, ‘Walk & don’t look blak’ curated by Natalie King, also at the MCA. The first major retrospective of her work, the show displayed the breadth of her practice, including works of photography, video, installation and performance.

Indigenous academic Prof Marcia Langton told the ABC after her death that Deacon “was a superstar in the art scene in Australia. Her work will remain the standard for political art, for witty, cut-through, blak, urban art. Her work was feminist and intersectional, free of heteronormative restrictions”.

Another Boomali artist and one of its founding members, the Bundjalung and Mununjali Elder, Euphemia Bostock, has died aged 88. She went on to serve as the Treasurer (1990-92) and Chairperson (2011-2022) at Boomalli, and was instrumental in helping the Co-operative back on its feet in recent years, tirelessly volunteering her time and energy to promote First Nations artists from NSW. She had been a founding member of the Aboriginal Arts Board alongside painter and Indigenous land rights activist Wandjuk Marika, back in the day when urban and remote members shared responsibility equally,

News from Utopia that Lindsay Bird Mpetyane, boss of Ilkawerne clan and Country, has died at approximately 82. A long-serving painter, he was almost certainly the only male artist who took part in the Utopia Batik movement in the early 1980s. He went on to be a significant figure in the acrylic on canvas movement that followed it in the late 80s, well-known for his traditional style of painting.

And a sad update, from Tjuntjuntjara, I learn of the death of the old  Spinifex maestro Lawrence Pennington. Born sometime in the mid-30s, he was forced off his Country by the Maralinga tests and returned in time to start painting with Spinifex Art Projects in the 1990s. SAP offers this poetic description of his art-making: “He guides the significant site of Mituna effortlessly on to the canvas, channelling the essence of Wati Kutjara Tjukurpa (Two Men Creation Line) from a time before when Lawrence walked throughout Spinifex Country. A time when he walked with the Song, following the physical manifestation in the landscape left by the creation beings from Pukara, of the stories that made it so, of the characters that played out the journey”.