Michael Cook Civilized #13 2012 inkjet print on archival Hahnemuhle cotton paper. UTS ART Collection on loan from the Corrigan Collection Image courtesy the artist and dianne tanzer gallery + projects.

Michael Cook
Born 1968 Brisbane, Bidjara people of south-west Queensland
Civilised #13 2012


Michael Cook’s image Civilised #13 is of an Indigenous man sitting atop a horse dressed in European costume from the late 18th Century. It is from his photographic series Civilised. The images from Civilised are all set on a shoreline referencing the first point of contact between Europeans, the Australian continent and therefore Indigenous Australians.
Cook questions the definition of the word ‘civilised’ in this series. He considers the European explorers that proceeded English settlement and the value judgement they placed on Indigenous people in terms of their civilisation.

It represents how European explorers saw Aboriginal people, how they looked at them, as being quite uncivilised so I recreated imagery and the way the models are dressed to look at them in a more civilised way in regards to how Europeans would have seen a people to be more civilised. The way that the Aboriginal people lived in Australia, I mean, it well and truly was civilised but its how the explorers saw Aboriginal people through their own eyes and what made them civilised was it cultivating the land, was it living in a built up society, was it the clothes that they wear or was it how they looked and the colour of their skin. That is the question ‘how did they see them as being civilised?’ because they were civilised. So, I wanted to show Aboriginal people in a civilised context in how a European explorer would have seen a civilised person.

—Michael Cook

Michael Cook worked for 25 years as a commercial photographer before being drawn into art photography as a means to explore his Indigenous heritage. He works in photographic series rather than single images allowing a story to unfold. The digital layering in each image gives his work a depth and dream like quality that–

operate in an ethereal dream world, a timeless place that traverses colonial and contemporary, sustaining itself on what-ifs and hypothetical situations – a place of Cook’s own modern Dreaming.

—Bruce McLean, curator, QAGOMA


Learn more about Michael Cook’s work on his website and on QAGOMA TV