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b. 1968, Australia

Michael Cook Biography

Brisbane-based contemporary photographic artist of Bidjara heritage Michael Cook creates surreal images distinctive for reversing roles of colonisation and discrimination. Earning him recognition in Australia and across the globe, Cook's artworks critically examine the historic and present-day treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people in Australia.

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Born in 1968, Michael Cook was adopted as a baby by a non-indigenous family. Raised by parents who fought for indigenous rights, the artist grew up very aware and proud of his heritage—coming from the Bidjara people of south-west Queensland. He turned to art photography after 25 years' experience as a freelance commercial photographer. The change in direction was driven by a desire to develop stronger connections to his heritage, something commercial photography would not provide.

Michael Cook's first solo exhibition Through My Eyes—shown at Brisbane's Andrew Baker Art Dealer in 2010—presented an eponymous series of works in which the artist appropriated photographs of all 27 of Australia's prime ministers and overlaid their faces with Aboriginal features. This process of photographic layering is enhanced by fashion and commercial photographic manipulation techniques such as retouching and is a distinct feature of his practice. As Michael Cook, himself, explained to Ocula 'I say I am like a painter, but instead of paint and canvas I use a camera and photographic layers to achieve a 'painterly' depth in the image.'

In 'Through My Eyes', Michael Cook envisioned an alternate dream world outside of the true colonial narrative, in which the tables are turned on the relationship between different races. It is a world that the artist invites viewers into with each new series he produces.

That alternate world is particularly evident in the 2014 series 'Majority rule', where, flipping the roles of minority and majority, Michael Cook placed Aborigine actors in urban centres of power dominated by white Australians, such as the senate, courts, and inner-city business district. This role reversal is not intended to be entirely sardonic; rather, as the artist has stated, 'It's about learning Australia's history to create a better future.'

In 2011 Through My Eyes was selected for the Western Australian Indigenous Art Awards. Making an impact from early on, the budding photographic artist's career has developed quickly since then. Over the space of a decade, Michael Cook has emerged rapidly on the Australian and international contemporary art scene. His works have featured in major group and solo exhibitions across the globe. The artist has also participated in major international art fairs and events including the 7th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art in Brisbane in 2012.

Michael Cook's artworks can be found in the permanent collections of several major Australian and international institutions. These include the British Museum, London; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and the National Museum of World Cultures in the Netherlands; as well as the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney; the National Gallery of Victoria; and the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart. He has also been the recipient of numerous photographic and indigenous art awards, as well as an artist residency in New York in 2014.

Biography by Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2020

Michael Cook Featured Artworks

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Livin' the dream (For Sale) by Michael Cook contemporary artwork
Michael CookLivin' the dream (For Sale), 2020Inkjet print on archival Hahnemuhle cotton rag
120 x 180 cm
This Is No Fantasy dianne tanzer + nicola stein Enquire about this work
Livin' the dream (BBQ) by Michael Cook contemporary artwork
Michael CookLivin' the dream (BBQ), 2020Inkjet print on archival Hahnemuhle cotton rag
120 x 180 cm
This Is No Fantasy dianne tanzer + nicola stein Enquire about this work
Livin' the dream (Vacation) by Michael Cook contemporary artwork
Michael CookLivin' the dream (Vacation), 2020Inkjet print on archival Hahnemuhle cotton rag
120 x 180 cm
This Is No Fantasy dianne tanzer + nicola stein Enquire about this work
Livin' the dream (Birthday) by Michael Cook contemporary artwork
Michael CookLivin' the dream (Birthday), 2020Inkjet print on archival Hahnemuhle cotton rag
120 x 180 cm
This Is No Fantasy dianne tanzer + nicola stein Enquire about this work
Livin' the dream (Welcome Home) by Michael Cook contemporary artwork
Michael CookLivin' the dream (Welcome Home), 2020Inkjet print on archival Hahnemuhle cotton rag
120 x 180 cm
This Is No Fantasy dianne tanzer + nicola stein Enquire about this work
Livin' the dream (sold) by Michael Cook contemporary artwork
Michael CookLivin' the dream (sold), 2020Inkjet print on archival Hahnemuhle cotton rag
120 x 180 cm
This Is No Fantasy dianne tanzer + nicola stein Enquire about this work
Invasion (Laser Girls), 2018 by Michael Cook contemporary artwork
Michael CookInvasion (Laser Girls), 2018, 2018Inkjet print
135 x 200 cm
This Is No Fantasy dianne tanzer + nicola stein Enquire about this work
Invasion (UFO Possums) by Michael Cook contemporary artwork
Michael CookInvasion (UFO Possums), 2017Inkjet print, two sizes
This Is No Fantasy dianne tanzer + nicola stein Enquire about this work

Michael Cook Recent Exhibitions

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Contemporary art exhibition, Michael Cook, Livin’ the dream at This Is No Fantasy dianne tanzer + nicola stein, Melbourne
Closed
1 April–6 June 2020 Michael Cook Livin’ the dream This Is No Fantasy dianne tanzer + nicola steinMelbourne
Contemporary art exhibition, Kirsten Coelho, Michael Cook, Petrina Hicks, Lakin Ogunbanwo, Yhonnie Scarce, Jacqui Stockdale, Summer 2018 at This Is No Fantasy dianne tanzer + nicola stein, Melbourne
Closed
24 November–16 December 2018 Kirsten Coelho, Michael Cook, Petrina Hicks, Lakin Ogunbanwo, Yhonnie Scarce, Jacqui Stockdale Summer 2018 This Is No Fantasy dianne tanzer + nicola steinMelbourne
Contemporary art exhibition, Michael Cook, Invasion at This Is No Fantasy dianne tanzer + nicola stein, Melbourne
Closed
28 July–18 August 2018 Michael Cook Invasion This Is No Fantasy dianne tanzer + nicola steinMelbourne

Michael Cook Represented By

Michael Cook In Ocula Magazine

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Melbourne’s Art Scene: Nine Online Programmes Ocula Report Melbourne’s Art Scene: Nine Online Programmes By Tessa Moldan, Melbourne

With Melbourne Art Fair's Viewing Rooms being launched with Ocula between 1 and 7 June 2020, this lowdown provides of further online programmes to connect with the city's scene.

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Michael Cook at THIS IS NO FANTASY + dianne tanzer gallery, Art Basel in Hong Kong 2016 Ocula Insight Michael Cook at THIS IS NO FANTASY + dianne tanzer gallery, Art Basel in Hong Kong 2016

The camera is usually picked up late in the process. Formulating and finessing the idea may take months, then the camera is the tool I use to capture that vision.

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A report on Australian representation at the 56th Venice Biennale: 'All The World’s Futures' curated by Okwui Enwezor Ocula Report A report on Australian representation at the 56th Venice Biennale: 'All The World’s Futures' curated by Okwui Enwezor By Tess Maunder, Venice

On the 120th anniversary of its inaugural exhibition in 1895, Nigerian-born curator, Okwui Enwezor, has this year directed the 56th iteration of the Venice Biennale. Titled  All The World’s Futures, the exhibition is centred on re-articulating the politics of representation in the wake of colonialism. Since the nineties, the spike in...

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Notes On Desire: The 19Th Biennale Of Sydney Ocula Report Notes On Desire: The 19Th Biennale Of Sydney By Stella Rosa McDonald, Sydney

" Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will." George Bernard Shaw In 1879, a French postman named Ferdinand Cheval began building an esoteric homage to the beauty of sandstone. On one of his postal rounds, Cheval came across small pieces of...

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Michael Cook In Related Press

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Talk is Good, Action is Better Related Press Talk is Good, Action is Better 22 June 2018, The New York TImes

Talk is good, action is better. If there was one theme to emerge from our public discussions this week about race and politics in Australia and the United States, it was the idea that conversation must be a prelude to activity, not an end unto itself. What might that action look like? Let me tell you about Mark Nannup. After our event...

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Colony a celebration of the Indigenous voice Related Press Colony a celebration of the Indigenous voice 29 May 2018, The Age

History may be written by the winners but it is rewritten by the survivors. Even when brought up on the propaganda of a victorious culture, the vanquished and their descendants peep out from cracked old books and scrutinise the assumptions and complacency of the conqueror's story. In Colony, a large soul-searching show at the NGV, I see the...

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Artist Interview: Michael Cook Related Press Artist Interview: Michael Cook 20 August 2014, Alison Kubler for Manuscript / August 2014

Queensland-based photographic artist Michael Cook is having a rather good year. He was the critical hit of the largely lacklustre 19th Biennale of Sydney, and at present he is in enjoying three months in residence at the Australia Council studio in New York City. In addition, he is part of a large exhibition that starts in Queensland before touring...

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'My Country' Indigenous Australian Art In Auckland Related Press 'My Country' Indigenous Australian Art In Auckland 9 April 2014, Art Radar Asia / 04 April 2014

Auckland Art Gallery, Toi o Tāmaki, is exhibiting nearly 100 works by 40 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island artists from 28 March to 20 July 2014. The exhibition, which is New Zealand’s largest ever show of Aboriginal art, is called, My Country: Contemporary Art from Black Australia. It explores the artists’ connection with the land...

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