Artist Dylan Mooney Is Redefining Representation of His Communities

Dylan Mooney with Growing Together (2021)

This thought-provoking artist is redefining representations of his communities.

When Dylan Mooney arrived in Sydney from Brisbane for WorldPride last February and looked up at Still Thriving – his 14-storey-tall mural on Darlinghurst's Top of the Town building of two young First Nations men holding each other – he was speechless. “It was surreal,” says the 28-year-old Yuwi, Torres Strait and South Sea Islander artist, who will show a solo exhibition at Sydney’s N.Smith Gallery later this year. “You hope it’ll make an impact on people walking by. Maybe it will resonate or support them.”

Still Thriving (2023) in Sydney's Darlinghurst

Mooney embraced art as a teenager, the oldest of seven children growing up in Mackay, North Queensland. His first love was drawing but at university, influenced by contemporary First Nations artists Tony Albert and Judy Watson, Mooney began sharing stories and social commentary via digital illustration, scanning his sketches onto a computer and using a stylus to draw on screen. Legally blind, Mooney could zoom in and add detail without the headache-inducing eye strain of conventional drawing or painting. “I can also create colours I wouldn’t necessarily get on paper,” he says.

Inspired by superhero comics and movies, Mooney’s romantic, boldly coloured works have attracted a 50,000-plus Instagram following as well as high-profile commissions, including a Rolling Stone cover and a Google homepage doodle. His work will also be included in this year's Biennale of Sydney, which starts in March.

In 2021, he created artwork for the Our Islands, Our Home campaign, calling for action to save the Torres Strait Islands from rising sea levels. The following year, when Ben & Jerry’s launched a new ice-cream flavour called This Is Our Whirled, Mooney designed the packaging, which asked all Australians to support Torres Strait Traditional Owners in their plight. Tying together communities that have historically faced so many hurdles, Mooney lists his themes as resilience, survival and reflection. “We all deserve to be loved,” he says. “We’re all worthy. I’m just putting it out there.”

Exhibited at: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney; Museum of Brisbane and Queensland Museum, Brisbane

What the experts say: “There’s a raw emotion that emanates from Mooney’s portraits… It’s a beautiful defiance; an unwavering statement of selfhood and pride.” – Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen, Art Guide Australia.

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SEE ALSO: How Jeanne Johns Keeps Calm in a Crisis

Image credit: Rhett Hammerton, Chris Southwood

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