Australia 1960 – 2004
Untitled from the series Sacrifice [poppies]
1992, printed 1993
Collection Title: Sacrifice
Place made: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Materials & Technique: photographs, gelatin silver photograph Impression: 2/10
Michael Riley is from central western New South Wales and has lived in Sydney since the early 1980s. A photographer, video- and film-maker, over the past two decades he has built up a steady and consistent body of work, ranging from black-and-white portraiture, film and video, conceptual work, to his most recent developments in digital media.
Riley considers Sacrifice to have been his first conceptual body of work, drawing upon interwoven influences from his childhood – ‘Christianity, mission life, and rationing, the photographs shifting between the literal and the allegorical, exploring the experience of dispossession by replacing Indigenous people with symbolic images of poppies, fish and crucifixes.’1
It is in this series that the symbol of the cross, that most potent of Christian icons, first appears, looming large against a turbulent sky. Riley’s images reflect what he has described as the ‘sacrifices Aboriginal people made to be Christian’.2 They resonate with loss, portraying the experience of not only the individual, but also many Indigenous communities: ‘loss’ of culture and land in enforced, and sometimes embraced, ‘exchange’ for Christianity.
The granules of sugar, flour and tea echo the rations meted out to Aboriginal people on missions, and hint at the struggles which present-day communities face through the onslaught of drugs.
Michael Riley says:
‘Sacrifice is a body of work that the viewer can take what they want from. It’s up to the viewer to make their own connection to the works.’3
Brenda L. Croft
1Brad Webb in Oxford Companion to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2000, p.687.
2Michael Riley in Avril Quaill, Marking our Times: Selected works of art from the Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Collection at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra: National Gallery of Australia, 1996, p.66.
3Michael Riley, telephone conversation with Brenda L. Croft, 2002
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra