cloud [feather], from the series cloud
06 Jan 1960 – 2004
Language groups: Wiradjuri, Southern Riverine region, Kamilaroi, Northern Riverine region
- 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
- North Building, ground level, Yiribana Gallery
- Accession number
- © Michael Riley Foundation/Copyright Agency
- Artist information
Works in the collection
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.
Shown in 2 exhibitions
Home: Aboriginal Art from NSW, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 09 Jun 2012–02 Dec 2012
Gallery 1: Yiribana Collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, North Building, Sydney, 03 Dec 2022–2023
Other works by Michael Riley
cloud [cow] Michael Riley 2000, printed 2005-2009 251.2022.1 On display – North Building, ground level, Yiribana Gallery
cloud [crow, left wing, closed] Michael Riley 2000, printed 2005-2009 251.2022.10 On display – North Building, ground level, Yiribana Gallery
See all 28 works