Michael Cook is from the Bidjara people of south-west Queensland. Although an emerging artist, he has a wealth of photographic knowledge and experience that has gained him national and international recognition. He originally worked as a fashion photographer and has effectively applied these skills to the visual arts with Undiscovered 2010, which comprises a suite of 10 photographs and was recently acquired by the Gallery.
Undiscovered subtly portrays the ‘discovery’ of Australia by the British. The action takes place on the beach, looking out, as Aboriginal people would have, where the ocean meets the land and where Aboriginal people met the British for the first time. The emu and the kangaroo (the adopted icons of the Australian coat of arms) as well as other native animals ‘discovered’ by the British such as the crocodile, wombat, goanna and echidna make cameo appearances throughout. The historical Endeavour, a powerful symbol of Australian colonisation, also appears, along with modern technology such as the bicycle, ladder, dingy and wheelbarrow.
The recurring figure in the photographs is an Aboriginal man in a reversed role. He is dressed in colonial-style clothing acting as a British coloniser; his splendid red jacket is reminiscent of those worn by eighteenth-century British naval officers. Image by image, however, he disrobes, shedding his colonial clothing and revealing the resilience and strength of an Aboriginal person unencumbered and ‘undiscovered’. In the final arresting image of the work, the Tasmanian devil stands defiant over a discarded and tattered British flag.
Tina Baum, Curator, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art
in artonview, issue 65, autumn 2011
in artonview, issue 65, autumn 2010