We acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the Country on which the Art Gallery of NSW stands.


Untitled (bible), from the series cloud

printed 2005-2009


  • Details

    printed 2005-2009
    Media category
    Materials used
    inkjet printed banner paper
    AP from an edition of 5
    125 x 86 cm image; 102.1 x 136.6 x 5.8 cm frame
    Purchased 2022 with funds raised from the 2017 Art Gallery of New South Wales Foundation gala dinner
    Not on display
    Accession number
    © Michael Riley Foundation/Copyright Agency

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    Artist information
    Michael Riley

    Artist profile

    Works in the collection


  • About

    Michael Riley was a photographer and filmmaker who has left an important legacy, for both the emotive breadth of his work and his astute commentary on socio-political and cultural issues concerning Aboriginal people in Australia. His documentary and conceptual photographs are widely recognised as key examples of contemporary Australian art. Riley’s family and friends were his constant inspiration, and his work is characterised by a strong sense of intimacy that inherently challenges the negative portrayal of ‘otherness’ in historical ethnographic portraiture.

    Throughout his life, Riley maintained strong links with his maternal Kamilaroi Ancestry in Moree and paternal Wiradjuri Ancestry in Dubbo, as well as Gadigal Country, Sydney, where he lived from the late 1970s onwards. Riley was a noted figure in the local creative community and in 1987 co-founded the Boomali Aboriginal Artists Co-operative, which is today recognised as one of Australia’s longest-running Aboriginal owned and operated art galleries. Other founding members are Brenda L Croft, Tracey Moffatt, Avril Quaill, Bronwyn Bancroft, Euphemia Bostock, Fiona Foley, Fernanda Martins, Arone Raymond Meeks and Jeffrey Samuels, some of whom appear in Riley’s works.

    cloud is one of Riley’s most iconic and celebrated bodies of work. It also represents his first foray into digital manipulation. In each image, a singular figure or object hovers in mid-air, isolated against an emblematic blue Australian sky. Some prints show a cow, a bible and a boomerang – respectively symbolising pastoralism, religion and Aboriginality – as motifs that together question ideas of belonging within Australia.

    Of this series, Riley has said:

    cloud was quite a resolved series for me, in that it brought all elements together: my childhood, the Christianity from my childhood, the problems with that, and also histories of Aboriginal peoples. I tried to make connections by showing things like the cow floating in an ethereal sort of sky – a strange animal to Aboriginal people, yet it’s also an animal Aboriginal people would kill when food supplies were running out. Aboriginal people would actually be shot or hunted down for doing these things, for trying to survive, themselves. The feather, almost suspended in the sky, could also be quite a heavy thing. I see the feather, myself, as sort of a messenger, sending messages onto people and community and places.

  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 2 exhibitions

Other works by Michael Riley

See all 28 works