Michael Cook

Website: www.michaelcook.net.au
Instagram handle: @michaelcookartist

A huge amount of what we do as artists is think. Our biggest obstacles to this are ourselves. To create confidence in our own ideas can lead to an overwhelming sense of pressure—to be creative, to keep improving, to dig deeper. Even with success, there’s even more pressure to create something better than the last. I remember after my series Majority Rule in 2014, I thought ‘how can I top that’? I also took a two year break after I made Invasion in 2017, not because I wanted to, but because it was such a big and involved production, I thought that the only way forward was an even bigger production. But I didn’t want to do that—I needed time to collect my thoughts. It was then I truly realised that for me being an artist is not about the production of the work at all. It is all about the idea.

So this is how I spend most of my time—contemplating ideas and figuring out what I think is worthy to put into production. The production is just a matter of having a good plan of attack and knowing how to adjust along the way. Easy! My Action is about the time I spend thinking and working through ideas to get the perfect image. I’m going to give you an insight into the steps of my process by revisiting works I have made over the last decade.

Artist bio

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.

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. His images unite the historical with the imaginary, the political with the personal.

Recent major exhibitions include at the Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego, the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, the Musee d’ethnographie de Geneve, Switzerland; National Gallery of Singapore; AAMU Museum of Contemporary Aboriginal Art, The Netherlands; the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco. Exhibitions have included Personal Structures – Crossing Borders at Palazzo Mora during the 56th Venice Biennale; Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilization at The British Museum, London and Mapping Australia: Country to Cartography at Museum of Contemporary Aboriginal Art, Netherlands. In 2020 Cook was selected for the Emerging Photographer sector, Paris Photo New York, New York (online). His first major survey exhibition titled Michael Cook: Undiscovered was launched with a hardcover monograph at the new University of the Sunshine Coast University, Queensland (2020).

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. Cook is represented by Andrew Baker Art Dealer, Brisbane and This is no Fantasy, Melbourne


Through My Eyes Bob Hawke
, 2010

If our colonial governments and Prime Ministers embraced Aboriginal Australian perspectives, what would the past, present and future of this country look like?


Mother, 2016

Each step she takes equals one day in her life. The empty pram holds the memory of her adopted child. Never knowing what happened but always wondering what could have been, she walks towards the pram never getting any closer.



Identity Andu—Son, 2015

Andu means son in Bidjara — the language of the Country that I am biologically connected to through my father, though I have never been there. I was adopted and grew up knowing I was indigenous, but I never felt blak or white. I just felt like me. This is a self-portrait. I have overlaid a picture I found on the internet of a family member from my father’s side, family I have never met - maybe it’s my way of connecting?



Object, 2015

Slavery can be blatant — people bought and sold like objects. But it can also be less conspicuous like the indentured labour that Aboriginal and South Sea Islanders people suffered in this country. Money, status, power and pet dogs in diamond collars treated far better than their masters ‘objects’.


Majority Rule Court, 2014

There is power in numbers, or so the saying goes. Colonisation stole power and opportunity from Aboriginal people and I wanted to give it back. In these images Aboriginal people are not just equal they are the Majority again.


Invasion Telephone, 2017

I watched Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) as a child. It scared the hell out of me. I often wonder what it must have been like for Indigenous Australians to see white people arriving on our shores 250 years ago. It is hard to imagine, but I wanted to bring that same sense of terror that I had felt as a child to this series only in reverse. This time Aboriginal Aliens, Giant Birds and Giant Lizards invade the streets of the mother country. 


Livin’ the Dream Welcome home, 2020

In observation of Aboriginal people Captain James Cook wrote that they appeared to be ‘far happier than we Europeans’. It is a phrase I think about a lot. Maybe it is a product of getting older but recently I’ve found myself questioning what makes me feel fulfilled. Are my dreams really my dreams, or are they a product of conditioning? And how much are these so-called dreams controlling my life? 


Natures mortes Blackbird, Flora, Aliment, 2021

Colonisation and the industry and practices that have come with it have brought so much damage to Aboriginal people, our culture and the natural environment of this continent. In these images life stands still.

Past Actions

07 Jun - 13 Jun 2021

Unbound Collective

31 May - 06 Jun 2021

OLC Art Collective

24 May - 30 May 2021

Naomi Hobson

17 May - 23 May 2021

Adrft Lab

10 May - 16 May 2021

Pat Brassington

03 May - 09 May 2021

Eddie Abd

26 Apr - 02 May 2021

Loren Kronemyer

19 Apr - 25 Apr 2021

Guo Jian

12 Apr - 18 Apr 2021

Kenny Pittock

05 Apr - 11 Apr 2021

Jannawi Dance Clan

29 Mar - 04 Apr 2021

Gillian Kayrooz

22 Mar - 28 Mar 2021

Nathan Beard

15 Mar - 21 Mar 2021

Pilar Mata Dupont

08 Mar - 14 Mar 2021

Michael Cook

01 Mar - 07 Mar 2021

Seini F Taumoepeau

22 Feb - 28 Feb 2021

Dani Marti

15 Feb - 21 Feb 2021

Lill Colgan & Sab D'Souza

08 Feb - 14 Feb 2021

Chris Yee

01 Feb - 07 Feb 2021

Rochelle Haley

25 Jan - 31 Jan 2021

Karrabing Film Collective

18 Jan - 24 Jan 2021

Nici Cumpston

11 Jan - 17 Jan 2021

Johnathon World Peace Bush

07 Dec - 13 Dec 2020


30 Nov - 06 Dec 2020

Raquel Ormella

23 Nov - 29 Nov 2020

Léuli Eshrāghi

16 Nov - 22 Nov 2020

Rolande Souliere

09 Nov - 15 Nov 2020

TV Moore

02 Nov - 08 Nov 2020

Gutiŋarra Yunupiŋu

26 Oct - 01 Nov 2020

Ivey Wawn

19 Oct - 25 Oct 2020

Naomi Blacklock

12 Oct - 18 Oct 2020

Sancintya Mohini Simpson

05 Oct - 11 Oct 2020

Yhonnie Scarce

28 Sep - 04 Oct 2020

Ruha Fifita

21 Sep - 27 Sep 2020

Kaylene Whiskey

14 Sep - 20 Sep 2020

Adam Linder

07 Sep - 13 Sep 2020

Archie Barry

31 Aug - 06 Sep 2020

Min Wong

24 Aug - 30 Aug 2020

Hayley Millar-Baker

17 Aug - 23 Aug 2020

Erin Coates

10 Aug - 16 Aug 2020

Diego Bonetto

03 Aug - 09 Aug 2020

Tyza Hart

27 Jul - 02 Aug 2020

Larissa Hjorth

20 Jul - 26 Jul 2020

Louise Zhang

13 Jul - 19 Jul 2020

Henri Papin (Meijers & Walsh)

06 Jul - 12 Jul 2020


29 Jun - 05 Jul 2020

Rainbow Chan

22 Jun - 28 Jun 2020

Jason Phu

15 Jun - 21 Jun 2020

Abdul Abdullah

08 Jun - 14 Jun 2020

Patricia Piccinini

01 Jun - 07 Jun 2020

Brook Andrew

25 May - 31 May 2020


18 May - 24 May 2020

James Tylor