Michael Cook is an Australian art photographer who was born in 1968. He worked commercially in Australia and overseas for twenty-five years before he began to make art photography in 2009, driven by an increasingly urgent desire to explore issues of identity. He is of mixed ancestry – some of which is Indigenous – and works from an Australian base.
His photographic series are unique in their approach, evocatively recreating incidents that emerge from colonial history. His images unite the historical with the imaginary, the political with the personal.
Images are unusual in their construction, created in a manner more akin to painting than the traditional photographic studio or documentary model. He begins with an idea, using photographic layering to build the image to provide aesthetic depth and each series explores an enigmatic narrative. While his earliest work was set in the Australian outback or beach environments, new series’, such as “Object” (2015), speak to a European cultural heritage and a universal experience of dispossession and displacement.
Cook’s career has been on an upward trajectory since the launch of his first art series, “Through My Eyes” (2010). Since then, his work has been included in major exhibitions all over the world. These include the 7th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (Brisbane, 2013) and 19th Biennale of Sydney (2014). His series “Object” (2015) was shown at the 2015 Venice Biennale as part of Personal Structures: Crossing Borders at Palazzo Mora. In 2015 his work was part of Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilisation at the British Museum.
His work was also included in Lifelines: Indigenous Contemporary Art from Australia, curated by the Musées de la Civilisation in Québec, Canada and Artist and Empire: (En)countering Colonial Legacies, Tate/National Gallery Singapore, Singapore (both 2016). It was also part of Taba Naba: Australie, Océanie, arts des peuples de la mer, at the Musée Océanographique de Monaco in 2016.
His series “Mother” was launched at Art Basel Hong Kong in 2016 and speaks to the importance of the matriarch in cultures across the ages. In 2018 his work was part of Mapping Australia: Country to Cartography, AAMU, Museum of Contemporary Aboriginal Art, Utrecht, Netherlands. In 2019 his work was part of Cape Town Art Fair in South Africa, a country which shares Australia’s challenges with its colonial past. His work has been shown at the Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego, and he was represented at Art Basel Hong Kong again in 2019.
In 2020 Cook was selected for Paris Photo New York with “Livin’ the Dream” (before the art fair was cancelled due to COVID-19). His first major survey exhibition titled Michael Cook: Undiscovered was launched in 2020 with a hardcover monograph at the new University of the Sunshine Coast Gallery, Queensland.
Cook’s photographs are represented is in all major Australian collections, and in significant international collections including the British Museum, London, The Museum of World Cultures, Netherlands, Museum of Contemporary Aboriginal Art, Utrecht, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, and the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection, USA.
Visually striking, technically complex and sensitively inventive, Cook’s images occupy a new space in the artistic imagination and are featured in publications all over the world.