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.Read More
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