Michael Cook

Collection In Focus

9 Nov 2024 –
5 Jan 2025

Michael Cook is a renowned Australian photographic artist of Bidjara decent. His works are meticulously staged to create enigmatic narratives that engage audiences in the retelling of history, exploring what is real and what is imagined. 

The Cairns Art Gallery has two series of works by Cook - Livin’ the dream 2020, comprising five black and white ink jet prints, and Enculturation 2021, a series of six ink jet prints, donated by the artist in 2023.

Livin’ the dream presents images of day-to-day events rendered incongruous and absurd by the inclusion of bizarrely ‘out of this world’ people and settings. 

Birthday depicts a young Aboriginal mother poised over an outdoor table, clothed in a lace dress and neatly fitted apron. The setting is stark, an outdoor scene in remote Australia.  Cook uses codified images - a clothesline and neatly laundered and pegged washing on the veranda of the neat-as-a-pin prefab house, an inground swimming pool, sun chair and motorboat – to depict ‘desirable’ trappings of a white middle-class family. However, it is the daughter’s gaze as she watches her mother perform the ceremony of cake cutting that powerfully captures the inexorable erasure and replacement of First Nations peoples’ customary laws and cultural traditions by Anglo Saxon customs and conventions.

Enculturation is an equally evocative work with traditional Aboriginal women and children variously positioned in the remote landscape of the Australian outback. Each image contains subtly positioned signifiers that reference the tragic history of the Stolen Generation (1910-1970s). Together they reverentially acknowledge the wisdom of the old women, painted up in the traditional way, and their strong relationships with each other and country, despite the helplessness and vulnerability of irrevocably fractured families. 

Livin’ the dream and Enculturation combine personal and collective memories and imaginings to recall the history of white colonisation and its enduring legacies of dislocation and inequality for Australian Indigenous people.




Selected works



Michael COOK
b. 1968, Brisbane QLD
Livin’ the dream (Birthday)
from the Livin’ the dream series  2020
inkjet print
120 x 180 cm
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Michael Cook, 2021


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