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Michael Riley

The late Wiradjuri/Kamilaroi artist Michael Riley is one of the most important Indigenous artists of the past two decades. Over his career he created an impressive body of work ranging from black & white portraiture to film, video and large-scale digital photography. 

Riley’s contribution to the urban-based Indigenous visual arts was substantial. His film and video work challenged non-Indigenous perceptions of Indigenous experience, particularly those of the most disenfranchised communities in the eastern region of Australia. Over 20 years, he built a steady and consistent body of work, ranging from black-and-white portraiture through to film and video, conceptual work, and digital media.

Riley moved to Sydney in 1976 to begin a carpentry apprenticeship. In 1983 he participated in a Koori photography course at the Tin Sheds, University of Sydney, later working at the Sydney College of Fine Arts as a technician in the Photography Department, where he continued to study. That same year he took part in the Contemporary Aboriginal art exhibition at Bondi Pavilion, which included his work, alongside that of his cousin Yurry Craigie.

Many of Riley's photographs, videos 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).

Michael Riley: sights unseenrevealed the prolific talents of a quiet observer whose photomedia, video and film continues to have a profound effect on Australia's contemporary representation and comprehension of Indigenous Australia.

In 1987 he was one of the founding members of Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative, set up to promote the work of urban Aboriginal artists. His work is held in many private and public collections. In 2002 Empire and cloud traveled to ARCO in Spain as part of Photographica Australis and in 2003 cloud and Sacrifice featured in the Asia Pacific Triennial at the Queensland Art Gallery.

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

Date 
b. 1960 – d. 2004
Birth place
Dubbo, NSW, Australia
Period of activity 
from 1980

Lives and works

Dubbo
NSW
Australia
1960 - 1976
Sydney
NSW
Australia
1976 - 2004
Related organisations
Selected events
Boomalli: Five Koorie Artists, Michael Riley, 1988
Boomalli: Five Koorie Artists, Michael Riley, 1988 
Poison, Michael Riley, 1991
Poison, Michael Riley, 1991 
Malangi: A day in the life of a bark painter, Michael Riley, 1991
Malangi: A day in the life of a bark painter, Michael Riley, 1991  
Blacktracker, Michael Riley, 1996
Blacktracker, Michael Riley, 1996  
I don't wanna be a bludger, Destiny Deacon and Michael Riley, 1999
I don't wanna be a bludger, Destiny Deacon and Michael Riley, 1999