Blak on Track: Celebrating First Nations Art on Narrm’s Trams

Blak on Track: Celebrating First Nations Art on Narrm's Trams

The Narrm tram network is now graced with a new fleet of trams featuring the work of First Nations artists, led by the legendary Indigenous art icon, Dr. Destiny Deacon, a KuKu Yalanji and Erub/Mer Mer woman who passed away last month. This initiative, entitled “Blak on Track,” highlights six trams traversing the city, each showcasing unique creative visions curated by Boonwurrung/Wemba Wemba artist Jarra Karalinar Steel. Blak on Track: Celebrating First Nations Art on Narrm’s Trams

Part of Melbourne’s RISING festival of new art, music, and performance, this year’s selection transforms the trams into a moving tapestry of mediums, styles, and ideas. It celebrates the dynamism of Indigenous expression that enriches Australia’s most culturally renowned city.

Blak on Track: Celebrating First Nations Art on Narrm's Trams

Dr. Destiny Deacon: A Legacy on Wheels

The first tram features Dr. Deacon’s work, ‘Arrears Windows,’ from her 2009 ‘Gazette’ series of digital photos. This piece offers an intimate glimpse into the lives of Melbourne’s public housing tower residents. Credited with coining the term “Blak,” Dr. Deacon’s career was marked by addressing themes of identity, race, and cultural stereotypes, often using humor and irony to critique the representation of Aboriginal people in mainstream media and culture. Her work features evocative images of dolls, kitsch objects, and family members, challenging viewers’ perceptions and encouraging engagement with the complexities of Indigenous identity.

Curator’s Tribute

“It’s impossible to overstate the impact that Dr. Destiny Deacon has had on art in this country, on a generation of First Nations artists, and on me personally,” Ms. Karalinar Steel said. “Being able to present her work as the first to roll out this year as part of the First Peoples Melbourne Art Trams program is such an immense honor.”

She further explained how Dr. Deacon’s “raw, tongue-in-cheek style of social commentary” deeply resonated with her, having grown up inspired by the artists of Narrm’s Urban Indigenous Art movement. “The title of this year’s series, Blak on Track, would literally not have been possible without her. Her iconic Blak dolls capture the essence of her powerful message and are a perfect tribute to her legacy. Curating this project for my final year and including Destiny’s work feels like the culmination of my journey with the Art Trams. I hope it inspires passengers to learn more about her and other brilliant artists who have shaped our culture.”

Government Support

Minister for Creative Industries, Colin Brooks, expressed his support, stating it was fitting to see “Dr. Destiny Deacon’s incredible talent and groundbreaking legacy” lead this year’s First Peoples Melbourne Art Trams. “Destiny’s tram will be the first of six trams featuring exceptional artworks by First Peoples artists that will travel around our city and suburbs as part of the latest edition of this much-loved and distinctly Melbourne public art program,” he said.

Featured Artists and Their Trams

Dr. Destiny Deacon – KuKu Yalanji and Erub/Mer Mer

  • Routes: 1, 6, 19
  • Tram Number: 5012
  • Title: Arrears Windows
  • Description: Offers an intimate glimpse into the lives of Melbourne’s public housing tower residents, highlighting individual narratives and struggles through evocative imagery.

Milla Morgan – Wiradjuri/Yorta Yorta

  • Routes: 1, 6, 19
  • Tram Number: 5002
  • Title: I Just Wanted to Say Sorry
  • Description: Reflects on the varied forms of First Nations art and aims to reframe perceptions, fostering shared understanding and connection within the community.

Kait James – Wadawurrung

  • Routes: 3, 64, 67
  • Tram Number: 2017
  • Title: Hung Out to Dry
  • Description: Challenges colonial narratives and celebrates cultural complexities using pop culture references, Blak humor, text, and vivid colors on reclaimed Aboriginal calendar tea towels.

Iluka Sax-Williams – Taungurung

  • Routes: 70, 75
  • Tram Number: 236
  • Title: Kulin Woora Liwik—Kulin Sky Ancestors
  • Description: Celebrates the connection to ancestors through nature’s Songlines, emphasizing their presence in the land, waters, and atmosphere, and their role in guiding the future.

Thomas Day – Gunditjmara/Yorta Yorta/Wemba Wemba

  • Routes: 5, 6, 16, 58, 72
  • Tram Number: 3532
  • Title: Yarkeen—Dreams
  • Description: Offers a cultural viewpoint on the timelessness and ethereal nature of the world, celebrating the connection between the physical and spirit worlds.

Ellen José – Torres Strait Islander

  • Routes: 48, 78, 109
  • Tram Number: 3023
  • Title: Reach Out And Touch—Distance And Time
  • Description: Emphasizes the enduring impact of war on individuals and communities, depicting themes like memory, yearning, regret, and Torres Strait culture.

“Blak on Track” is not just an art exhibit but a profound cultural journey across Melbourne, embodying the spirit and creativity of First Nations artists. This moving gallery invites every passenger to explore and appreciate the rich tapestry of Indigenous art and its significant role in shaping the cultural landscape of Narrm.

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