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Here we present some of our people who have been trailblazers in their lifetimes. This section contains images of deceased people; the use of these images has been approved by the artist's families and trustees.

1960 - 2004

Nation: Gamillaroi

Michael Riley

Michael Riley was a leading Indigenous photographer and filmmaker .

Michael's career started in 1982, when he enrolled in a photography workshop at the Tin Sheds Gallery, University of Sydney, and later became the photographic technician at the Sydney College of the
Arts. In 1986, Michael was included in the first exhibition of Indigenous photography at the Aboriginal Artists Gallery, Sydney, exhibiting five portraits of Black women.

In 1986, Michael and nine other Sydney based artists established Boomalli Aboriginal
Artists Cooperative. He worked concurrently at Film Australia, where he wrote and directed his first film 'Boomalli: Five Artists', 1988, followed by the highly acclaimed 'Dreamings', 1988, a documentary made for the exhibition of Aboriginal art at the Asia Society Galleries, New York. Michael freelanced for the ABC where he directed a substantial body of work including the films, 'Poison' and 'Malangi' both in 1991'Blacktracker' 1996, 'Tentboxer' 1997, . He formed one of the first Aboriginal film production companies, Blackfella Films, in 1993.

Michael continued to celebrate Aboriginal women in 'Portraits by a Window', 1990 and the 1991 series 'A
Common Place Portraits of Moree Murris'. From 1993 Michael's photographic work focused on self-abuse as a symptom of colonisation, represented in 'Sacrifice', 1993, a series of images of icons, such as Aboriginal hands displaying stigmata.

He was commissioned by the Museum of Sydney in 1996 to create Eora, a
permanent video display dedicated to the people of Sydney. Michael surveyed the environmental destruction of his country as a metaphor for the encroachment on Aboriginal culture in his films 'Quest for Country' 1993, 'Empire', 1997, and the photographic series 'Fly Blown', 1998. 

Michael returned to community portraits in 1999, with
the series 'Yarns from Talbragar', depicting members of his father's Wiradjuri community in Dubbo and echoing his 1991 Moree series, centred on his mother's Gamilaroi family. His first digital series, 'Cloud', 2000 was included in Photograhica Australis at ARCO in Spain, the Fourth Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art at the Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, and the 2003 Festival of Sydney.

Michael  was an exceptional artist whose work demonstrates his singular vision.

(The above text was drawn from from Jonathan Jones in 'Tradition today: Indigenous art in Australia', Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2004 © Art Gallery of New South Wales)


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