Michael Riley (artist)

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Michael Riley
Born 1960 (1960)
Dubbo, New South Wales, Australia
Died 2004 (aged 43–44)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Nationality Australian
Occupation Photographer, filmmaker
Known for Photography

Michael Riley (1960–2004) was an Australian Indigenous photographer and film-maker, and co-founder of Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Cooperative. A significant figure in Contemporary Indigenous Australian art, Riley's work is held by many public art institutions including the National Gallery of Australia.

Life and work[edit]

Riley was born in 1960 in Dubbo, central New South Wales, to Allen Riley and Dorothy, née Wright. His early years were spent on the Talbragar Aboriginal Reserve with his parents and siblings David, Wendy and Carol.[1] Riley moved to Sydney in 1976, and attended a photography course at the Tin Sheds, University of Sydney. He subsequently worked as a technician in the photography department of the Sydney College of the Arts, where he continued to study.[2]

Riley's photographs range widely, but with an emphasis on portraiture, and on symbolic, sometimes surreal images. His parents were churchgoers,[3] and Riley appropriated the iconography of his 'creepy' religious experiences,[4] particularly in projects such as flyblown (1998) and cloud (2000/2005).

Many of Riley's photographs and films explore Indigenous identity, experience and politics, including Malangi: A day in the life of a bark painter (1991), Poison (1991), Blacktracker (1996), and Tent Boxers (2000).

Riley's work was amongst that of eight Australian Indigenous artists selected for an architectural commission for the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris.[5]


Films (including shorts)[edit]

  • Boomalli: Five Koorie Artists (1988)
  • Breakthrough series: Alice (1988)
  • Dreamings: The art of Aboriginal Australia (1988)
  • Frances (1990)
  • Malangi: A day in the life of a bark painter (1991)
  • Poison (1991)
  • Quest for country (1993)
  • Welcome to my Koori world (1993)
  • A passage through the aisles (1994)
  • Kangaroo dancer (1994)
  • Eora (1995)
  • Blacktracker (1996)
  • The masters (1996)
  • Empire (1997)
  • I don't wanna be a bludger (1999)
  • Tent boxers (2000)



  1. ^ Brenda Croft, 'Up in the sky, behind the clouds', in Croft (ed.), 2006
  2. ^ Alan McCulloch, Susan McCulloch and Emily McCulloch Childs, 'Riley, Michael', in McCulloch's Encyclopedia of Australian Art (4th edition), Aus Art Editions and The Miegunyah Press, MUP, 2006
  3. ^ Brenda Croft, 'Up in the sky, behind the clouds', in Croft (ed.), 2006
  4. ^ Djon Mundine, 'Cloud: Wungguli - Shadow: Photographing the Spirit and Michael Riley', in Croft (ed.), 2006, p.127.
  5. ^ Australia Council for the Arts, 2006


  • Brenda Croft (ed.), Michael Riley: Sights Unseen, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2006
  • Australia Council for the Arts, Australian Indigenous Art Commission, Musée du Quai Branly, Art & Australia Pty Ltd, Sydney, 2006

External links[edit]