Exhibition review: JXSH MVIR: Forever I Live, Koorie Heritage Trust

When kinship is involved – it shows.
'JXSH MVIR: Forever I Live', installation view at Koorie Heritage Trust. Left to right: 'The Heart', 2016; 'Oxymoron', 2015; 'William Buckley - Maquette', 2016 (mixed media sculpture); 'Still Here', 2015; 'The Empire', 2015 (top); 'Ticket to Projection', 2015 (middle), 'Skip to my Lou', 2015 (bottom). Photo: ArtsHub. Digital illustrations of Melbourne landmarks with red, black and yellow background hang on the walls. In front of them is a small sculpture of a human figure on a bright yellow plinth.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised the following article contains the name of a deceased person.

A proud Yorta Yorta, Gunditjmara and Barkindji man, Josh Muir (1991-2022) was born and raised on Wadawurrung Country in Ballarat, Victoria. His works across installation, painting, digital illustration and video intersect youthful street art aesthetics with First Nations traditions of storytelling, and interrogates identity and the legacies of colonisation in an accessible manner.

The young artist’s sudden death in 2022 came as a shock to many, and the love and support that has flowed since is testament to not only his prolific career, but also his place in the community.

JXSH MVIR: Forever I Live is a survey exhibition currently on view at Koorie Heritage Trust (KHT), co-curated by Muir’s partner, Shanaya Sheridan, his mother, Justine Berg and the KHT curatorial team. This kinship results in an exhibition tribute that is insightful, authentic and moving.

The show’s main display resides on level two, with an expansive showcase of Muir’s digital prints on aluminium, early paintings (c. 2010-2012), video and even sculpture. Muir’s voice features prominently in many of the exhibition didactics, detailing his creative and personal journey – what art meant to him and the things that he held dear.

'JXSH MVIR: Forever I Live', installation view at Koorie Heritage Trust. Photo: ArtsHub. Colourful works in a gallery space, featuring a neon yellow panel with digital illustrations in the middle, and a neon light spelling 'JXSH MVIR' on the right hand side.
‘JXSH MVIR: Forever I Live’, installation view at Koorie Heritage Trust. Photo: ArtsHub.

Pieces like Bellow with Pride Don’t Hide (c. 2012), which the artist gifted to the primary school he attended, and We Will Survive (2015), reveal how Muir centred his art on empowerment. His works often bring historic references to contemporary settings in order to highlight points of tension, but also spur hopes of reconciliation.

A series of digital prints on aluminium from 2015 show popular Melbourne landmarks placed against the black, red and yellow of the Aboriginal flag, with artwork titles like Still Here, Oxymoron and The Empire. ‘I look around, I see empires built on Aboriginal land, I cannot physically change or shift this, though I can make the most of my culture in a contemporary setting and my art projects reflect my journey,’ said Muir in 2016.

Still Here was further developed into a digital video in 2016 and projected onto the façade of the National Gallery of Victoria for White Night Melbourne that year. It is now showing next to the KHT entrance on ground level, and will once again come alive as a projection during White Night Ballarat this year.

JXSH MVIR: Forever I Live has retained Muir’s personality, openness as well as moments of self-reflection. On the one hand, viewers are introduced to Muir as this hippy, confident icon wearing a crown and sitting on a throne; while on the other, he is in a state of vulnerability, recounting night terrors and trauma in Dying in My Dreams, also known as the Black and White series (2020). It’s a deviation from his usual saturation of eye-popping neon colours, and reveals a deeply considered practice beneath the upbeat appearance that characterised his oeuvre.

Read: Exhibition review: Mac Hewitt, Ellen Giannikos, Andrew Anka, Anthony Jackman, Gerard Russo, SOL Gallery

It’s difficult to get the presentation of digital illustration right in a physical space, but JXSH MVIR: Forever I Live has harnessed this with dexterity, making each work feel weighted while channelling Muir’s pop aesthetic. The exhibition also sits comfortably across three levels of the KHT, which underwent major redevelopments before reopening in December 2023.

Seeing the calibre of Muir’s works and indications of what could have manifested in years to come lead to a bittersweet moment in the exhibition. A 2018 quote from Muir leaps out against the yellow wall on level three – ‘I can’t say goodbye to art,’ he said, ‘who am I kidding, I’m still yet to create the best work of my life.’

JXSH MVIR: Forever I Live is on view at Koorie Heritage Trust until 14 July; free.

Celina Lei is an arts writer and editor at ArtsHub. She acquired her M.A in Art, Law and Business in New York with a B.A. in Art History and Philosophy from the University of Melbourne. She has previously worked across global art hubs in Beijing, Hong Kong and New York in both the commercial art sector and art criticism. She took part in drafting NAVA’s revised Code of Practice - Art Fairs and was the project manager of ArtsHub’s diverse writers initiative, Amplify Collective. Celina is based in Naarm/Melbourne. Instagram @lleizy_