Your guide to the 2024 First Peoples Melbourne Art Trams

Thu 13 June

Meet the artists behind the 2024 First Peoples Melbourne Art Trams. A movable tapestry of art mediums, styles and ideas—a celebration of the breadth and dynamism of First Peoples expression enriching the city.

The 2024 First Peoples Melbourne Art Trams are re-wrapped and ready to move. This year, tribute trams featuring works from trailblazing artists Destiny Deacon and Ellen José, will roll out alongside a fleet of new pieces from Thomas Day, Kait James, Milla Morgan and Iluka Sax-Williams. Jarra Karalinar Steel (Boonwurrung/Wemba Wemba) returns to curate the program for the last time. The selections are a movable tapestry of mediums, styles of and ideas—a celebration of the breadth and dynamism of First Peoples expression enriching the city.

The trams are on the tracks for the next 12 months.

First Peoples Melbourne Art Trams are presented as part of RISING, in partnership with Public Transport Victoria, Yarra Trams and Creative Victoria.


2024 Curatorial Statement

BY JARRA KARALINAR STEEL(BOONWURRUNG/WEMBA WEMBA)

Over the past three years, the art trams have been dedicated to First Peoples artists working and living in Victoria and have become emblematic of Melbourne's unrivalled artistic spirit, enchanting commuters, and passers-by alike. From visionary artists who fearlessly pushed boundaries to creators who celebrated themes of identity, country, community, representation, traditional craft, and visions of a better future, the previous works have invigorated the city's cultural landscape.

Breaking free from a dedicated theme, this year's trams are your time to embrace your artistic freedom, unleashing a kaleidoscope of narratives, styles, and perspectives that reflect the vibrant essence of First Peoples culture, art, and design.

Seize this unique opportunity to showcase your exceptional talent, claim your space, and inspire the city with your creative vision.

Together, let us ignite inspiration, provoke innovation, and enliven Melbourne's streets through these artful trams. It is through art that we forge connections, amplify our voices, and propel Melbourne's creative soul ever forward.

This year we will be working with the Ellen José Memorial Foundation to dedicate one of 2024’s trams to Artist Ellen José (1951-2017). Ellen José was a pioneer in Australia’s urban Indigenous art movement and a radical activist and social justice campaigner. It is an honour to celebrate this important Artist and Torres Strait Islander Aueswau (Elder), who was an artist that helped pave the way for many other First Peoples Artists.


Dr Destiny Deacon

Language Group | Ku Ku/Erub Mer
Artwork Title | Arrears Window
Tram | #5012
Routes | 1, 6 and 19 (now on the tracks!)

Artist Statement
Arrears windows from the “Gazette” series of digital photographs created in 2009, offers an intimate glimpse into the lives of Melbourne’s public housing tower residents. Through evocative imagery, Deacon’s arrangement of black and brown dolls in yellow plastic tubs highlights the individual narratives and struggles within these communities. It prompts viewers to confront the often- overlooked challenges and overcrowded conditions faced by residents, fostering empathy for their experiences.

Biography
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 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 representations 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.

A panorama of Destiny Deacon's Art Tram. Photo: James Morgan.

Milla Morgan

Language Group | Wiradjuri/Yorta Yorta
Artwork Title | I just wanted to say sorry
Tram | #5002
Routes | 1, 6 and 19 (Launching: 13 June)

Artist Statement
I just wanted to say sorry is a work of reflection, an honest and true representation of what First Nations art looks like, an attempt to reframe one’s perception of what is expected. First Nations art can take all different forms and the only prerequisite for art to be considered Aboriginal art is for it to be made by someone Aboriginal. As well as creating reflection for my white peers, I also made it for mob and mob connecting through shared understanding of life alongside our allies.”

Biography
“I'm a proud Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta woman. I am 21 years old. I grew up in Mildura Victoria, the Land of the Latje Latje people and moved to Narrm two years ago to begin my study, i'm currently in my second year of a bachelor of fine arts degree at RMIT. I was also lucky enough to be crowned this year's (2023) Ms NAIDOC. Most of my work I do in the community is around art and reframing the perception of first nations art, to create safe and comfortable spaces for us to create whilst also making sure we are seen for who we are and what we create.”

Milla Morgan 'I just wanted to say sorry' First Peoples Melbourne Art Trams, RISING 2024. Photo: James Morgan.

Kait James

Language Group | Wadawurrung
Artwork Title | Hung out to dry
Tram | #2017
Routes | 3, 64 and 67 (Launching: 14 June)

Artist Statement
“As a proud Wadawurrung woman, my work challenges colonial narratives and celebrates cultural complexities. This work, Hung out to dry, features a compilation of my embroidered works from the past five years. Using reclaimed Aboriginal calendar tea towels from the '70s and '80s, I subvert stereotypes with pop culture references, Blak humour, text, and vivid colours. I’ve highlighted key images to make a statement on the challenges facing First Nations People and provoke reflections on identity, perception, and the enduring resilience of Indigenous heritage.”

Biography
Kait James is a Wadawurrung artist living and working on Wurundjeri country. In her practice James challenges Indigenous stereotypes and asks questions relating to self, perception, and the collective lack of knowledge of Indigenous culture and community, exploring her identity as an Australian woman with Indigenous and Anglo heritage.

Kait has been practising professionally since 2018 and in that time has mounted solo exhibitions at Art Gallery of Ballarat, Geelong Gallery, Neon Parc and Koorie Heritage Trust, in addition to public art projects in Victoria of various scales. James has participated in group exhibitions at NGV, Australian Tapestry Workshop, Latrobe Art institute, Mornington Peninsula Gallery, 4A Centre for Contemporary Art and Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane.

In 2019, she was the winner of Craft Victoria’s Emerging Artist Award and the Koori Art Show’s Reconciliation award. She was also a finalist in the Churchie National Emerging Artist award, the King Wood Mallesons Art Prize and the Wangaratta Contemporary Textile Award. Her work has been collected by the National Gallery of Victoria, Art Gallery of Ballarat, Geelong Gallery, Koorie Heritage Trust, Epworth Hospital Collection, Monash University Museum of Art, Murdoch University, Artbank and various other private and public collections.

Kait James 'Hung out to dry', First Peoples Melbourne Art Trams, RISING 2024. Photo: James Morgan.

Iluka Sax-Williams

Language Group | Taungurung
Artwork Title | Woora Liwik—Kulin Sky Ancestors 
Tram | #236
Routes | 70 and 75 (Launching: 17 June)

Artist Statement
“Our ancestors’ essence flows through our vast land, deep waters, and up into the boundless atmosphere. The high country and rushing rivers hold our rich history and knowledge, revealing stories throughout one’s journey. Listen to nature’s infinite Songlines, spoken by our ancestors through the winds. Their essence passes through us daily, connecting us to the Dreaming and enhancing our perception of the world. Look to the stars; ancestors are always with us, shining as beacons to light the path forward.”

Biography
“Wa wa (Hello) name's Iluka Sax-Williams and I am an award winning Indigenous Australian Artist based in Melbourne, Australia. I have a broad practice spanning visual art, dance, design and more. My work is informed by my connections to Taungurung and Torres Strait Islander cultures. 

My passion for sharing and enhancing awareness of First Nations practices manifests not only in my work, but also my involvement with community- strengthening educational activities like hosting possum skin cloak workshops. 

My pyrography work on kangaroo skin artwork ‘Woora Liwik’ was exhibited at the 10th Koorie Heritage Trust Art Show in 2022 to 2023, which won the RMIT emerging artist award. My work was also curated into Craft Victoria in 2022, with 2023 which had me commission to create work for the recent ‘Making the metro tunnel exhibition’ at Domain House Gallery, Melbourne.”

Iluka Sax-Williams, 'Woora Liwik—Kulin Sky Ancestors', First Peoples Melbourne Art Tram, RISING 2024. Photo: James Morgan.

Thomas Day

Language Group | Gunditjmara/Yorta Yorta/Wemba Wemba
Artwork Title | Karween Mooroops (Dancing Spirits)
Tram | #3532
Routes | 5, 6, 16, 58 and 72 (Launching: 18 June)

Artist Statement
“My work Karween Mooroops (Dancing Spirits) offers a viewpoint through my lens, the cultural lens. We don’t see the world through the view of reality, we see it as it was during the beginning, the time of creation. The ethereal, the timelessness, when we leave the physical world, we return home to the spirit world and will dance with all of those who are waiting our return. Our essence is infinite, our song is sung across country forever.”

Biography
“I am a Gunditjmara, Yorta Yorta and Wemba Wemba man and multi-disciplined artist based in Shepparton.

Working across various mediums from painting, large scale murals, sculpture and digital design I create bespoke, intentional works, weaving the essence of identity with the aim for the viewer to want to know more about my people. I craft narratives that transcend the norm.

I aspire for my artworks to resonate with the viewer, not just visually but work the encompasses all the senses. A feeling!”

Thomas Day, 'Karween Mooroops (Dancing Spirits)', First Peoples Melbourne Art Trams, RISING 2024. Photo: James Morgan.

Ellen José

Language Group | Torres Strait Islander
Artwork title | Reach out and touch – distance and time
Tram | #3023
Routes | 109 and 48 (Launching: 19 June)

Statement
Reach out and touch – distance and time emphasises the enduring impact of war on everyone involved, not just those on the frontlines but also their partners, children, families and friends back home.

Showcased in the 1992 exhibition ‘Black Digger Ghost Fighter’, this work highlights the 50th Anniversary of the Kokoda campaign in New Guinea. Through truth, lived experiences and themes like memory, yearning, regret, and the Torres Strait culture, the series vividly depicts the immediate and long-lasting toll of war on individuals and communities alike.

Biography
“My identity as a Torres Strait Islander is infused in my paintings, sculptures, watercolours, installations, drawings, photographs, films, lithograph, linoprints, ceramics and woodblocks. It is an integral part of who I am. A line, a stroke, a symbol, a place, an idea unconsciously flows through my body into my work... It is as much a part of me as the sea, the earth, the sky is part of everybody’s story.” — Ellen José

Ellen José, 'Reach out and touch – distance and time', First Peoples Melbourne Art Trams, RISING 2024. Photo: James Morgan.

PHOTOS: James Morgan

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