The best things about Hobart’s Dark Mofo festival

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by Sarah Halfpenny

Each June since its inception in 2013, Hobart has celebrated the darkness of our southern hemisphere winter solstice with the incredible Dark Mofo festival. Around every corner – as well as in unused buildings, dimly lit laneways and empty car parks – you’ll find art, music, food and merriment. The city bustles and buzzes with an influx of tourists, goodwill and a palpable sense of adventure. Buildings, shopfronts and streets are lit up in the signature colour of red as locals and businesses temporarily turn Hobart into a fabulously twisted playground for creativity.

Gaining in popularity and attracting visitors and performers from all over the world, here are five of the best reasons to book your tickets to the ‘Apple Isle’ in 2023 (exact dates vary but it always coincides with the winter solstice).

  1.  Amazing art

There are new exhibits and artists every year that bring an eager art crowd back time and again, searching out the weird and wonderful art in traditional galleries and abandoned spaces. Nearly all of the art events are free, and while there are queues to get into most of them, they move quickly and everyone is in a jovial mood, including the staff. People of all ages will be kept entertained for hours with light, art, and film exhibits galore all across the city, which are well signposted by their use of red neon lights in the shape of a cross. There are also very handy Art Walk maps to help you plan out your adventures.

  1. Ogoh Ogoh: The Purging

The ogoh-ogoh parade and burning is based on an Indonesian spiritual cleansing ritual, meant to represent the start of a new year and aimed at restoring the natural balance between the seen and unseen worlds of Balinese Hinduism. Visitors are invited to purge their fears onto paper and offer them to the giant totem-like sculpture (this year it was a Tasmanian Masked Owl). On or around the solstice night, thousands of people follow as it is paraded through the streets and witness its burning. It’s nothing short of spectacular!

  1. New exhibitions at MONA

Considering that Dark Mofo was created by the provocative and controversial Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), it makes sense that they time the opening of their new annual exhibitions with the festival. MONA is the largest privately funded museum in the southern hemisphere. It houses ancient, modern and contemporary art from David Walsh’s collection, spread over three levels of underground galleries, which visitors explore with custom-built technology (called the ‘O’) to glean information about the artworks on display. Highly recommend taking the picturesque 25-minute ferry trip from the Hobart dock to MONA.

  1. The local food and drinks

Tasmania has a well-earned reputation for world-class cuisine and it’s all on show during Dark Mofo. The Winter Feast is held almost every night of the festival, and provides a vast array of food and drinks in the one location, which can be enjoyed inside the enormous hall under the now famous red neon crosses, or listening to music while gathered outside with friends around a fire pit, with fairy lights strung above. Rug up but wear loose-fitting clothing to fit in the fabulous feast.

  1. The music

As is to be expected with this deliciously dark festival, the musical acts vary wildly, from avant-garde to conventional, but all are designed to mesmerise audiences with their sounds. In 2022, Dark Mofo was headlined by Sydney-born global superstar The Kid LAROI – probably the most mainstream and commercial act they’ve ever hosted. The ticketed shows aren’t cheap but sell out super quickly – the curated, themed shows and special musical guests keep the audience on its toes. Examples of past visiting musicians include Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon (USA), Nils Frahm (Germany), Ulver (Norway), The Irrepressibles (UK), Pussy Riot (Russia) and more.

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