Born 1960 Dubbo, New South Wales. Wiradjuri/Gamilaroi people.
Michael Riley moved to the suburb of Redfern, Sydney from the country town of Dubbo in the late 1970s. Drawn to the energy of the big city and the political activism taking place in Redfern at the time, he was interested in the possibilities of populated city living.
(I) wanted to…. get out and get into the city and do something different and see different things and meet different people.–Michael Riley*
In 1992 Riley produced Sacrifice his first conceptual photographic series. The series consists of signs and symbols representing various aspects of the degradation of Aboriginal culture, including the conflict between Aboriginal spirituality and Christianity, substance abuse and introduced foods and flora.
This series is the first time Riley references Christianity in his work, which becomes a major theme in his proceeding photographic series, including the renowned Cloud series.
As Aboriginal people, we have to sacrifice ourselves, something of ourselves, all the time to be a bit more like what non-Aboriginal people want us to be. Sacrifice was the first conceptual exhibition; the first time I had reflected on Christianity, and history of mission life, Aboriginal missions. I was exploring images from childhood – being sent to Sunday School and wondering what the hell this strange concept of religion is for an Aboriginal kid growing up in the bush. It’s about history, about how Aboriginal people were thrown onto reserves and missions and told not to speak languages, not to conduct ceremony
or song. – Michael Riley
* Perkins, Hetti art + soul: a journey into the world of Aboriginal art The Miegunyah Press, Carlton, Vic 2010