Michael Riley - Flyblown

Exhibition: 5 March to 5 April, 2008

Michael Riley

Stills Gallery is exhibiting one of Michael Riley's outstanding series, flyblown to coincide with a retrospective of Riley's work Michael Riley: Sights Unseen showing at the Art Gallery of NSW (22 Feb to 27 April) curated last year by Brenda L. Croft for the National Gallery of Australia. flyblown was produced in 1998 immediately before cloud (2000), Riley's best known series.

Riley was born in central NSW in (his father's) Wiradjuri country. He grew up on the Talbragar Aboriginal Reserve outside Dubbo. He developed an early interest in photography and in the late 70's moved to Sydney where, with his contemporary urban Aboriginal artists, he was a founding member of Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Cooperative (1987). He was also making films and became a founding member of Blackfella Films in 1993.

His early work followed the photographic traditions of documentary portraiture. It was primarily black and white and documented people from the communities he had grown up in (A common place: Portraits of Moree Murries, 1991 and Yarns from the Talbragar Reserve,1998) and in a more romantic style, his friends and fellow artists (Portraits by a window, 1990).

With Sacrifice in 1992 his style changed markedly to a more conceptual approach, with an absence of the human face. This series was still in black and white whereas flyblown is distinguished by the use of colour, which continued in cloud. Riley started working with symbolism and his politics were more assured, yet still subtle. Symbolic objects such as the bible, crosses (sometimes in graveyards), water and skies, told a story of Aboriginal degradation and dispossession by the process of white colonisation. In flyblown the primary subject matter is the land, its importance and its destruction. This is potently portrayed in an image of a dead galah lying on parched cracked earth.

Michael Riley's work continues to have major significance in Australia and internationally despite his early death in 2004. Sacrifice is currently showing in More Than My Skin, an exhibition of images of indigenous men by indigenous male photographers curated by Djon Mundine at Campbelltown Arts Centre (until 20 April). cloud is permanently installed at the new Musee du Quai Branly in Paris with other indigenous artists from Australia. In 2001 Riley won the prestigious Grand Prize at the 11th Asian Art Biennale in Bangladesh.