single-channel digital video, colour, silent
Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased 2005
The masked children in the silent Super 8 footage of Forced Into Images are the niece and nephew of the artist, Destiny Deacon, who worked with her longtime collaborator, Virginia Fraser, on this piece. The restless four-year olds sit on chairs in front of a plain backcloth, responding to off-camera directions that make them either laugh or cry. A collection of half-masks of adult faces is presented to them, which they gleefully don, swapping between male and female faces in a charade of alter egos. They mock the disconnect between their new grown-up faces and their real selves by picking their noses and sucking their thumbs, refusing to conform to the expectations dictated by how they now look.
The title, Forced Into Images, comes from an unpublished letter by Alice Walker to a social-worker friend researching racial stereotypes: ‘I see our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, captured and forced into images, doing hard time for all of us.’ The ‘images’ in this sense are stereotypes and assumptions that are imposed on others in accordance with received ideas about racial difference. In donning their masks, the children perform the act of assuming, or of being made to assume, an identity other to themselves. For Deacon, this act was central to the work, but some writers have seen the difference in skin colour between the two children as the starting point for its discussion of race and identity. To this, Deacon responded: ‘I never saw skin colour as a factor. I was pleased that one was a boy and one was a girl, because it’s good to have a mixture, but they were my nephew and niece, and the most important thing about them was that they were four-year-olds and uncontrollable, and fitted into the idea of being forced into images. It amazes me that people see them as black and white. That’s just part of being Aborigine. We come in different shades. He’s black as well. It’s not an issue.’
Updated and approved August 2016.
 Alice Walker, from an unpublished letter to Jan Faulkner, in Ethnic Notions: Black Images in the White Mind, Berkeley Art Center, Berkeley, CA, 2000, pp.11–12.
Born 1957, Maryborough, Queensland. KuKu (Cape York) and Erub/Mer (Torres Strait) people. Lives and works Melbourne.
Destiny Deacon is a descendant of the Kuku (far-North Queensland) and Erub/Mer (Torres Strait) people. An artist, broadcaster and political activist, her performative photographs, videos and installations feature members of her family and friends posing for the camera as well as items from her collection of ‘Aboriginalia’ – assorted black dolls and kitsch. Partly autobiographical and partly fictitious, her acerbic and melancholic work deals with both historical issues and contemporary Aboriginal life and is informed by personal experience and the mass media. Deacon’s humorous works examine the wide discrepancies between the representation of Aboriginal people by the white Australian population and the reality of Aboriginal life. In her ‘lo-tech’ productions, Deacon creates an insightful comedy that is effective in establishing a discourse about political, Indigenous and feminist concerns.
Deacon has been exhibiting since the early 1990s in solo and group shows. She was selected for the 2014 Dong Gang International Photo Festival, South Korea; the 2014 TarraWarra Biennial, TarraWarra Museum of Art, Healesville; the 2009 Havana Biennale, Havana, Cuba; Revolutions – Forms that Turn, Biennale of Sydney, Sydney (2008); and Culture Warriors: The National Indigenous Art Triennial, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra (2007). Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally in the USA, Canada, Italy, Austria, Poland, Latvia, Netherlands, Denmark, Germany and New Caledonia.
Deacon’s work is held in the major state galleries of Australia, and in many regional, corporate and university collections.Learn more